“Cindy,” Susi began, “Three months ago, after getting off work early, I came home unexpectedly and walked in on Jeff while he was watching porn. Images from that moment batter my mind throughout the day and haunt me at night.”
Following the morning’s service, Susi was meeting with Cindy, her church’s woman's ministry director. While feeling anxious and yearning for privacy, the only available space was a semi-secluded corner of the chapel.
“I’m sorry, Susi. That must have been shocking AND painful. What do you need?"
Susi responded, "I... I don't know. I just want those images to stop… I need Jeff to understand what I’m experiencing, and instead, he gets angry or walks away!"
“Susi, remember, Jeff’s a good man, active at church, always here with the kids. Something more may be happening here. Have you considered your part in how he’s responding? Or why he’s watching porn? For example, are you sexually available? If you were, he probably wouldn’t look elsewhere.”
Susi sighed. “If you only knew... I beg him to stop … but he just keeps saying something’s wrong with ME. I feel crazy… and now I’m wondering what’s wrong with me.”
“It’s probably best that you and Jeff meet with the pastor,” Cindy said just as Jeff entered the chapel searching for Susi.
Several weeks later, after counseling with their pastor, Susi attended her first session of the church recovery group. After starting with a short reflection, the group broke up into smaller ones focusing on specific topics. Susi was directed to join one focusing on co-dependent behaviors. After others described why they were there, Susi shared, “I’m here because I feel crazy. Since seeing what he was doing while watching porn on his laptop, I wonder what's happening after I go to bed. When I ask him to join me he says he deserves time alone after the kids are finally in bed. So now, I’m checking his online history.”
“Susi,” the leader began, “We understand how scared you feel. But you need to let him choose what he will share. You’re trying to control him instead of focusing on what you need to do.”
“I’m confused,” Susi said. “I discovered a Facebook group for Christian women led by someone trained to help women who experienced sexual betrayal. I learned that what I’ve experienced is called betrayal trauma. This week she explained that when we’re checking their phone or computer’s online history we’re not trying to control them; we’re trying to find out if we're safe - if what they’re telling us is true.”
Surprised by Susi’s response, the leader quickly moved the discussion to another topic. Susi returned to the group a few more times. However, she also continued connecting in the Facebook group. Through them she learned that intrusive images, triggers, quickly changing moods, and checking his laptop were symptoms of sexual betrayal.
Susi began feeling safer as members shared tools to manage the triggers, and the help they received from clinicians, counselors or coaches trained to work with those who experienced sexual betrayal. With the group’s encouragement, she began working with a clinician and coach. Together with her safe online community, Susi recognized that her previously frightening responses weren’t indicators that something was wrong with her, instead, they indicated something had happened to her.
Heard, validated, and encouraged, Susi began moving forward in her recovery.
I hear versions of Susi’s experience on a weekly, often daily, basis. Becoming trauma-sensitive and trauma-informed can help group facilitators bring a curious (empathetic) approach to their role by starting with a "What's happened/happening to her" instead of a "What's wrong with her?" understanding.
Plus, becoming trained can help the church move toward (or grow in) becoming a trauma-informed congregation. In a 2018 Christianity Today article, How to Become a Trauma-Informed Congregation, Heather Gingrich wrote, “In my 35-plus years as a Christian counselor, I have specialized in working with adults who have experienced sexual abuse and other forms of relational trauma, most of them self-identifying as Christians. Giving care to abuse survivors is not easy, particularly when church staff or lay leaders do not understand why survivors think, behave, or relate in certain ways. Simplistic solutions are sometimes offered in an attempt to bring about constructive change but can frustrate helpers if their suggestions do not work and further survivors."
That’s why ADOH partner peer facilitator training exists: to equip and support peer facilitators in leading groups within their local churches, communities, or online platforms, including secret Facebook communities.
Recently certified as an ADOH peer facilitator, Jackie Lash Idler describes what she gained from her training experience. "It's given me insight into my healing, reinforced the application of tools, as well as providing new tools for the way forward. In feeling called to share my healing with others, the training reinforces the imperative need for receiving qualified, comprehensive instruction from a trauma-informed approach. I highly recommend ADOH’s Partner Peer Facilitation Training program in gaining additional personal insight and healing from the effects of problematic sexual behavior and developing the critical skill base needed to partner with others on a similar journey."
The next ADOH Partner Peer Facilitator trainings begin in January. The 7 - 9 pm (US CT) group begins Wednesday, January 8. The 11 am - 1 pm (US CT) group begins Wednesday, January 15. If you are interested in participating in this training, head here (Peer Facilitator page) and complete the "Interest Survey".