It is May 29, 1991, and I have been in the United States since April 4. My escape from a country and its people who tortured my spirit with their non-empathic self-righteousness seemed to be helping my spirit. Living with a new friend and her husband in a upper middle-class house, in a neighborhood of directors, CEO’s and other intelligent and financially well-off people, had brought me a sense of security.
Looking out of the window at 10 o’clock at night, seeing the well-manicured lawn, the empty street, and the eerie silence tapped in to a feeling I had rejected. How ungrateful I am, I had thought. Here is everything I was looking for, wealth, glamour, recognition, going the way up the ladder to the perfect life. This is what I came here for, I reminded myself. I must build my own business, just like I had in Germany, and live in a neighborhood like this one, where people respect each other, and where everybody is somebody. I repressed a nagging ascending feeling which had set off butterflies in my stomach as I went to bed.
2 a.m. I woke up sweating from a dream where I was standing in the middle of a very large white, round room with no walls, but with hundreds of doors. A voice was telling me that my life would depend on the secret and knowledge residing behind all these doors. “Which door should I open first?” I asked the voice, which did not answer. When no response came, I walked towards the door in front of me. As I made the first step towards the door, but all of the doors started moving to the left in a circular manner.
With every step I made closer towards the door, the wall began spinning faster. Dizzy and frightened, I reached for a door. The spinning then stopped. Slowly, I opened the white door but could not see what lay behind. Instead, the room stared spinning again, this time to the right with me holding onto the open door. The level of anxiety became unbearable. I woke up.
The next day was a Sunday and I joined my friend Bennie at her church, her husband stayed at home. In the car, on the way, Bennie asked me if I had slept well. “No,” I honestly replied, “I had a nightmare. I must have eaten too much of the good food you cooked,” comforting her in my broken, mostly gesturing English, hoping that she was not disappointed. “Oh well,” she replied, “that happens to the best of us.” Just forget about it and have fun. “Yes, that is what I need,” I said. “Having fun helps us to forget the nonsense of scary dreams.”
And, it had helped, at least for the next hour. I met many people who were curious to meet this German lady who was visiting a black church, although, I didn’t understand their welcoming words.
As the church service began, I tried to understand what the pastor was saying, but my mind drifted off to the open door in my dream. The choir was singing and then a soloist began singing. Again, I didn’t understand the words he was singing, but his gentle voice and the soft melody turned on the light in the room of the open door of my dream.
I heard the words, Sweet Spirit Sweep over my Soul, and I understood them, as I felt a rolling wave of pain pressing me down into the church pew. Suddenly, I jumped up. Startled by my own reaction, I felt embarrassed and quickly solved the uncomfortable moment by whispering to Bennie, “Sorry, but I must go to the bathroom.” Standing outside the church and confused about what was happening to me, I ordered myself to control any possible emotional outburst and kept ridiculing myself until I was once again in full control.
After church some of the congregation gathered around me and many asked if I had liked the song. Embarrassed, I said “Yes,” but with an apology for my disturbing behavior. “Oh, no need for apologize,” each one insisted, while empathetically smiling. “It is the Holy Spirit that made you move.” They insisted that I had been enlightened with religious knowledge. I actually would have liked to adopt their version of what had happened.
It would have been an explanation of what I had felt, but something in me didn’t feel quite accepting of their religious explanation of what my feeling had been about. It had not been a spiritual type feeling I had had. It was a real feeling, a deep feeling of early pain which had been stored for many years and which had been released by an emotional trigger. The feeling had not yet subsided after the services and I felt I needed to be alone as I walked away from the joyful, laughing crowd to smoke a cigarette.
Suddenly, as I stood hidden by an oleander bush, I began hearing a favorite hymn from my childhood, So Nimm Denn Meine Haende (So Take My Hand and Guide Me). This song was playing in my mind as part of a duet with Sweet Spirit Sweep over my Soul and the picture of me sitting in the church of my home town appeared.
I saw myself as a 12 year old, singing a favorite hymn with the congregation, and silently crying, hoping Jesus would take my sin and pain away from the day before. After working all day at my parent’s gas station while on school vacation, a family friend, on his way home had given me a ride while my parents remained at work.
He had dropped me off on the main street at 10 p.m. and I had taken the usual shortcut home through the cemetery. As in a live video rerun, I saw and felt the excruciating pain, fear and guilt when I had been raped, decades earlier, in the cemetery close to my grandma’s grave, by a young man from the town.
As overwhelming and painful as the memory was, I felt a sudden, soothing calmness flood my body. Without words, I had perfectly understood the message that was hidden in the darkness of my nightmare, behind the door. It was the door of shame and guilt I had opened in my dream. Quietly, I said to myself, – “It was not your fault, little Sieglinde.”
At the same moment, I felt what an earlier dream in Italy and this one had in common. They both encompassed the same awesome feeling of a wholesome re-connection between the split within myself which had been created by a trauma many years earlier.
Bennie interrupted my emotional journey. “Come,” she said, “I would like to introduce you to the guy who sang Sweet Spirit … In a friendly way, I shook his hand as I searched his face trying to understand the real reason why he had sung that hymn, and why on this particular day.
Fourteen months later, the soloist was to become my husband. Since the day I heard Sweet Spirit Sweep My Soul, I wondered if the emotional outbursts of church congregants unknowingly use religion to trigger deeply hidden pain and soothe them. I observed the emotions as a door to primal pain.
Although emotions are expressed during such religious services, no connection to the original source of pain is made. Consequently, the primal process is not completed, and the same or similar original pain is felt again and again, because the imprint remains.
My attempt is to explain how I experienced both, years of catharsis and the final removal of the imprint; how a little serotonin rush (catharsis) helps temporarily and what it means to solve the painful early imprint.
Entering a feeling of pain generates tears and tears trigger serotonin production and other bio-chemicals with a similar function: The question is, can we go deep enough to solve the whole painful imprint (abuse) or not.
If we can’t, we become addicted to this every Sunday serotonin-rush (catharsis), accompanied a little oxytocin produced by hugs and encouraging words from likeminded also in similar pain.
This is how an addiction is created. Like all addiction, we have to come back for more. The reason is these soothing hormones last only for a few hours and we need more catharsis. When misery, irritability and sadness reappears the miserable sooth themselves by repeating scriptural words or repeating such things as “God loves me”. What else can they do not when the repressive system fails? Missing education becomes belief. The cycle begins, early inflicted pain is pushed up from the lower brain into the conscious and misery asks for soothing, until we remove it completely. Lack of serotonin and oxytocin are the guiding force in the adult life now, the same hormones they never received enough of in infancy, early childhood or even earlier in the womb.
Such serotonin and oxytocin rushes are the teasers churches build their congregation on to stay in power with words as “God loves you”, hoping that the members remain aware – but not conscious.