Well I’m probably going to ruffle some feathers with this post. We’re talking religious trauma… YEP better buckle up buttercup.

Let me start by saying, I believe in religious freedom. I may not practice the same faith that others do, but that doesn’t mean that I believe they are necessarily bad people or deserve judgement. But I have to admit, because of the experience in my life, my outlook on Christianity specifically is quite cynical. I find a lot of humor in the discomfort this community feels towards other faiths and belief systems. I also find it hilarious when I hear Christians talk about being condemned for their beliefs… like the church hasn’t spent centuries going on killing sprees against other practices; like their belief system isn’t literally indoctrinated into government law; like our societal norms aren’t formed by their beliefs; like many corporations don’t honor the major Christian holidays while requiring people to take personal vacation days for other holidays; like these communities don’t spend large amount of time and resources to intrude on people and cultures who believe something different. Yes, you are definitely the ones under attack here LOL!!! And if you are…  y’all have received way more religious freedom than others in this country, so is it really such a bad thing to get a little taste of your own medicine? Maybe it will help y’all find a little more appreciation for how good the WASPs have had it… but I doubt it. 

I think many people can relate to growing up in some kind of church right? And I’m sure many people continue to engage with this type of community because it’s what they have been, in my opinion, brainwashed into believing. Going to church on Sunday mornings, participating in Sunday school, vacation bible school, volunteering for church functions like bake sales and pasta dinners. If you are really dedicated maybe join the church choir or even become a speaker during services. Yeah, I can relate to all of that… as well as attending religious based schools. During my childhood and adolescent years these activities were not only required of me but forced. I was the good little church girl with high expectations… or so my parents liked to believe.

Oh here is an interesting piece to my story… my family was at war with one another about which kind of Christianity was “real” Christianity. So my father grew up as a Southern Baptist Minister’s son. They were fundamentalists, evangelists, the bible was taken literally in all things. Dad was the stereotypical minister’s son, constantly getting in trouble and regularly punished for it. From my understanding it was excessive, switches and belts were often utilized. Even though I know this was his upbringing I’m not totally sure where he stands on religion or spirituality. He didn’t really talk about faith or God much, but to be fair he didn’t really talk much period. When it came to going to church and functions it always felt more like he was phoning it in, playing the role because that was what he was supposed to do. If he ever had the opportunity to not participate, he took it.

On the other side was mom. She grew up in a very Catholic Italian family. But the dysfunction there was pretty strong too. My grandfather was a raging alcoholic who liked to physically abuse his wife in front of the children. Mom credits her faith and catholic school for how she survived this upbringing, can we say… spiritual bypassing?! Yeah we can say that, because to this day she still believes her father was a good Christian man. I don’t subscribe to the Christian beliefs anymore, but even I find that idea offensive to Christian men. Mom speaks so highly of the Catholic faith, saying that she just loves how accepting they are… *insert eye roll here. Yes, accepting is the word I would use for it… you can’t participate in anything unless you are catholic, and we excommunicate people for disobeying the rules of the church… but we accept all. She also enjoys how “liberal” the catholic faith is with the interpretation of the bible, she likes that they don’t require the intense study of the bible. She, like many Catholics, allow the clergy to interpret for them… like good little money giving robots.

I find it pretty amusing that dad brought home a Catholic girl to his Fundamentalist parents, I definitely understand where I get my rebellious streak from lol. Anyway, that was the beginning of a long feud between my parents and my dad’s side of the family. Mom was never able to move past the fact that her In-laws disapproved of their marriage. Dad chose her over them, he converted to Catholicism and has kept his distance to his family for the majority of their marriage. On some level I’m guessing this was just a perfect excuse to avoid confronting the pain he felt from them too. Growing up, it was clear there was a rift between us and that side of the family, it was a regular topic of discussion about how judgmental and dysfunctional dad’s family was because of their faith. Not saying that’s not the case, but to be fair I was never around them enough to come to that conclusion for myself. I didn’t question my parents about it because why would they lie to me? Why would that side of the family choose to not participate in our lives if it wasn’t true? As I got older I did start to see things that lined up with what I was always told. However, I do wonder how much of their lack of involvement was because they didn’t want to or because my parents didn’t want them to. And how much of that was truly because they weren’t willing to accept our faith.

Alright, so now that we have some background lets look at some things that growing up in a house with a toxic view of religion and faith gave me.

  • A deep-seated self-hatred that I still can’t seem to shake. It really doesn’t matter how hard I try or what I do to find acceptance, the bar for being “enough” feels truly unattainable. Thank you original sin and a “loving” god who uses that idea against his followers.
  • Shame and guilt, the ultimate manipulation tools. What better way is there to control people then to make them believe they are wrong and evil. Let’s tell them they are going to burn for eternity unless they follow our every word.
  • Perfectionism is a bitch… I don’t care what anyone says. AKA you must walk and talk as Jesus did or else you aren’t a good Christian. If you aren’t a good Christian then you are a sinner and condemned by all the other “good Christians”. Judgement from yourself and others!!!
  • Sacrificing one’s own needs and desires in order to be of service to others at all costs. This expectation trained me to devalue myself and my worth by eliminating all personal boundaries. Your needs and wants are not important and if you think they are, then you are selfish and ungrateful.
  • Because of those wonderful tools, guilt and shame I struggle to make even simple decisions. I have no trust in myself to do what is “right”. Even something as simple as deciding what to wear for the day comes with a thought pattern of judgement from myself.
  • While there are other factors that contribute to delays in social development, being sheltered from the outside world except at church created a severe mistrust for everyone around me.
  • Purity culture is one of the main reason I have such a severe level of self-hate. Being taught that sex is something that I shouldn’t want has been a true mind-fuck for me. It’s always been such a huge part of who I am, thank you Daddy Issues, but it was also something that created the belief that I was unworthy of love and acceptance.
  • Again there are other factors that contribute to this one, but hypervigilance to what is going wrong around me is a constant struggle. I have the ability to pick up on tiny details that others often miss, because I am always on high alert.

I left this belief system and community a long time ago, but never truly dealt with the pain it caused in a healthy way. This led to a long history of numbing myself in various ways. Like many who can relate, addiction and multiple mental health disorders became yet another source of shame and guilt. I’ve continued to struggle to navigate in a world that doesn’t make sense to me because all I see is hypocrisy. People preaching one thing, but not actually living up to their words. In many cases flat out lying to achieve their desires and advancements at the expense of other people.

Eventually I did begin to find some peace and acceptance by learning about other cultures and religions. This time of self-improvement and evolution helped me start to define who I was as a spiritual person, and make sense of things. I thought I had it figured out, I thought I was free. Turns out I was using a lot of what I learned to continue avoiding the past. Going down the same path as my parents, just with different rituals.

The next phase of my healing process was taking a closer look at what my purpose in life was. I spent all of my adult life jumping from one job to another. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have a goal, I didn’t have direction. I was living my life to help the people I love, without questioning if their intentions were beneficial to me in any way. One thing that I learned about myself during my spiritual self-improvement phase was that I actually really enjoyed learning. That was a real surprise to me because I struggled so much in school. I decided to attempt something that I always thought was out of my reach, and felt shame towards because the rest of my family had accomplished. I went back to school at age 27.  I did this even with little support from my parents, which was somewhat surprising. They were pretty disappointed when I didn’t follow that path after high school, and for most of my adult life pushed me to go. I thought they would be excited, instead I received criticism because mom was more concerned about grandchildren at that point.

I graduated right before Covid started and got my first job in the field I went to school for. I was so excited and motivated to get started. But things started to fall apart, I was still really struggling with my mental health. As the pandemic progressed it got worse and worse. Eventually things with that job came to a quick end and I made I promise to myself. I would take the time I need to heal so I never have to experience a fall like this again. I’ve been addressing not only that experience, but all the crap I have been trying to avoid that led to this low point in my life.

2022 has been filled with changes, challenges, and slow progress. I am sober for the longest period of time in my adult life. I’ve identified and regularly practice my coping skills for recovery. I’m in therapy and undergoing updated assessments for my mental health diagnosis and learning disabilities, I am learning how to set healthy boundaries with the people in my life and practicing how to say NO. I am focusing on MY passion to help others in a way that I can feel proud of. I am branching out and finding activities and causes that I want to be a part of. It puts a smile on my face to list all these things out. I may have a ways to go until I get to where I want to be, but I’m damn proud of how far I’ve come so far!

Everyday is still a struggle. I want to hit the fast forward button all the time, but I know it doesn’t work like that. I didn’t end up this way over night and I won’t be able to fix it over night either. I question myself constantly, I criticize my progress all the time, I cry, I scream, sometimes I have no idea how I will find the strength to keep going and stay in bed too long. Luckily I have a few people in my life that I can lean on to bring me back, remind me that I have actually made progress, that the baby steps add up in the long run. That is the biggest lesson I’ve learned, the people who have your best interest at heart won’t leave you. They let you cry and scream and hug you tighter during those moments. They stay in contact with you and make sure you are ok. When you fall you truly learn who your family is, that support is crucial to healing from any trauma. I want anyone who relates to this in some way to know you are not alone, even if it feels like it. There are people who understand and there is help out there!

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