Tag Archives: small groups

what to do when old memories resurface

At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.

The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.

Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.

It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.

Screenshot 2017-06-14 at 1.36.12 PM
My corner of the NWC dorm. That big squared blanket is now primarily Chris’.

That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.

During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.

I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.

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Our Most Recent Church Small Group Endeavor

untitledIt had started snowing by the time we got to the house. It had rained all day, and there were weather warnings for the night and next day. Since Chris and I are both Midwestern, and most importantly, the car was Midwestern, we weren’t super worried. At least, not about that.

We were trying a new small group for the first time. It was connected to Chris’ church, and there were going to be food and games. I was relieved, because it meant I didn’t have to share anything too personal and deep, which it something I have a tendency to do when someone asks me. The last small group we had gone to, I had essentially relayed my whole story with depression, which fascinated the small group leader, like he had never met someone with depression before. He was perfectly nice and appropriate and everything, but I felt really on the spot.

So, I could easily avoid the life history if I wanted to. I started to get really nervous when we went to the door. I could hear children’s voices. When we rang the doorbell, a gaggle of kids opened it. Neither Chris or I really knew what to say. “Hi, we’re here for the small group” didn’t seem quite right, given our audience. The kids screamed, “People are here!” and then proceeded to close the door.

“Just go in,” I told Chris.

“They’re holding the door shut,” he replied.

Oh no.

After an agonizing minute or so, an adult human woman opened it. She had a baby tied to her chest and was extremely pregnant. She had an odd look (at least, I thought it was odd), like she was expecting us to try and sell her something.

“Is this the church small group?” Chris asked.

“Yeah! Come on in!”

We all introduced ourselves and went to the kitchen, where more introductions occurred. I quickly deduced that they were all dads, and it was their brood who had tried to shut us outside. For her sake, I was glad they weren’t all the kids of the woman who opened the door, but that meant that Chris and I were currently the only adults in the room who were not parents. Well, us, and the young guy whose zipper fly was down. I spent the next ten minutes or so trying to make my body as small as possible so kids would stop crashing into me, and sending a telepathic message to Chris to signal to Zipper Fly to zip up. I was not successful in either.

A few more people came, and with them, children. I became more and more uncomfortable. When it was time to eat, everyone stood staring at the food for what felt like an eternity, not wanting to go first.

“This is very Midwestern,” I murmured to Chris.

When we finally ate, Chris and I went first, because we were “the guests.” It was subtle, but then I realized that we were the only ones considered guests. That felt weird. I asked if we were all going to eat at the table in the room next door.

“Sit wherever! Make yourself at home!” the man of the house said.

Okey dokey.

Chris and I went to sit at the table and waited for the others to join us. No one came. I could see them, standing in the kitchen and eating. If I was someone else, I would have gotten up and went back into the kitchen, but I was not confident in my ability to hold a plate and eat. The kitchen was small, and with all the adults and assorted children running around, it was pretty much assured that I would drop my food everywhere.

Eventually, someone did come out. We had a painfully awkward conversation about where we were from, stuff to do in Oregon, and believe it or not, pressure cookers. I became absurdly enthusiastic sharing my knowledge, as if I was a salesperson for the Instant Pot. Another person came out and stood by the table. More painful conversation. All the while, two kids played with their fishing game at the table with us, lightly arguing about who had caught what fish. Eventually, both adults left because their kids needed food/help with the bathroom. I did not expect them to return.

At this point, I had checked out. We had not even reached the “game” portion of the evening, and I was dreading it. But I wasn’t going to say anything. Chris already knew how picky I was about people, so I wasn’t going to be the jerk and make him leave. To my surprise, he said he was going to make an excuse about work, so we could leave. We took our plates to the kitchen and Chris made his announcement. It triggered a few questions about what his career, and I realized that in our two conversations, they had always asked Chris what he did, but never me, even when the opportunity was right in front of them. We had only started talking about pressure cookers because Chris had brought up my freelance writing on my own and my newest project. I chose to not see it as sexism in action, but rather an indication of just how bad people are at talking to each other. The man of the house said we should come back another time.

“Definitely!” Chris said.

We got in the car and I declared that I needed hot chocolate. As I sang along to the radio, I noticed Chris had not spoken. He didn’t speak the entire drive, and even forgot where we were going, so we went to a different Dutch Bros than usual. When we got home and changed into our comfy clothes, I asked him if everything was okay.

“I’m just disappointed,” he said.

He didn’t talk much the rest of the night. I realized that the reason I didn’t feel anything about the bust of an evening was that I didn’t really expect anything. I knew what it was like to feel incredibly uncomfortable (and unwelcome) somewhere. I’ve been to my share of youth groups and churches, and had anxiety long enough to know what it feels like when an entire house seems to want to expel you from its walls. Chris isn’t that way. He’s endlessly gracious about people and optimistic about every situation he goes into. I sometimes think I would like for Chris to have a rough time somewhere so he can relate to me more, but seeing him so disappointed and quiet…it kind of broke my heart. I wanted him to be chatty and goofy with the dog. I wanted him to be himself again.

I think we should start our own small group. No kids. Read interesting books. Go do volunteer work. Be intentional about building a spiritual community that questions and builds up. I would sign up.