Panic Attacks and Sexuality in the Church

My pastor talked about sex last Tuesday night. I knew that before I got there, thanks to the Facebook post on our mid-week service page. In hindsight, I probably should not have gone, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For context, we’re currently going through the book of Ephesians and Tuesday night’s passage of Scripture provided an interesting backdrop to all the loud, destructive, cornucopia in my mind. Let me illustrate my point so you know what I mean. Pastor Doug read Ephesians 5:1-14 (For the sake of not making this post unnecessarily long, I won’t post the whole passage here, but here’s a link if you want to read it).

In this passage where you have beautiful and encouraging imagery like “be imitators of God as dearly loved children” and “walk in love” and verse 8 in particular which states, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” So beautiful and true. You would think my heart would soak that up, right? Wrong.

My brain and heart decided to dwell on verse 4: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (NASB). My wonderful, little traumatized brain said “Ooh, let’s focus on that! ‘The sexually impure…can’t inherit God’s kingdom.’ I was sexually groomed and assaulted, and have PTSD. That makes me sexually impure…” Huge sigh. I hate my brain sometimes.

The Panic Attack

By the time Pastor Doug got really into his teaching, I was already floating (my word for “dissociating”). I recall him saying “high school,” “hormones,” and then this phrase, “You ever pray for God to just take away your sexuality?” In my head, I screamed, “YES!” I wanted to stay seated but I couldn’t. I could already feel the sweat on my palms, feel my chest tightening with every labored breath I took like a skilled boa constrictor killing its prey, slow and meticulous. I knew what was coming.

The topic of sex, or anything sex-related, has always made me uncomfortable, even before the trauma. After a whispered direction to my friend to “watch my purse,” I hobbled as fast as my panicked body would allow, trying to mentally prepare myself to face my triggers and intrusive memories in the cool, Floridian air. I flopped on a nearby bench, put my head in my hands, and begged myself to “calm down” and “stop, just stop please,” while hyperventilating in time with every memory that passed through my hippocampus. I walked around for a bit, still in a daze, but decided, after a while, that my time was better spent attending to my newfound dehydration (Panic attacks tend to cause dizziness, dehydration, and headaches. They suck).

Reasoning With Myself

I entered into the church to grab some water with the intention of going back inside and actually returning to my seat. A rare moment of optimism that was crushed before it could take root. I went away again. And again. Each time, hating myself more than I did before. See, the thing about trauma and, by association, PTSD is that it produces a myriad of shame. It is this shame that alienates you and makes you feel different from others, like an outsider.

If I could have, I would have stayed outside all night, but that would have been awkward and caused even more concern for my behalf from my friend who was keeping watch over my purse.

Restoration?

Back to my seat I went, with more water in hand. I have to laugh because the exact moment I walked back in, Doug was just beginning to mention the two “unmentionables” in the church. Namely, pornography and masturbation. Oh, the awkward silence and laughter that followed! This definitely goes down as his most cringe-worthy sermon ever.

Yet, I have to give him props for even bringing it up because a majority don’t discuss sex in church, or if they do, it’s always in a “don’t do it before marriage or you are damaged goods” kind of way.

He talked more about God’s grace to restore and redeem than anything else that night, in regards to sexuality, and once again, I felt different than those around me. Here’s why: I’m asexual. When Doug gave us time to reflect and pray about what God was telling us concerning our sexuality, telling us that God would “restore our sexuality” the immediate thought in my head was, “Does my sexuality, or lack thereof, need to be restored?” I don’t have an answer for that. I’ll write more about this later, but all I can say for now is that it is extremely hard and lonely being asexual in a sex-obsessed world.

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