I lay the baby down for her nap, re-microwave (yes… the “re” is intentional; #momlife) my coffee, and settle down on the corner of the couch that will probably have a permanent imprint from my butt by the time this book is done. This has been my life most every day I am home with the baby for the last several months, as I urgently try to churn out this book that I feel so passionate about.
I began writing my spiritual memoir back in 2013, writing that now feels like the AOL / dial-up internet version of the book I am working on now. I have been transforming those memoir pieces into a book that examines fundamentalist evangelical Christianity and how it so frequently creates trauma in its adherents. I didn’t initially know I was writing a book with a focus on religious trauma. I discovered this in the writing process, as I re-experienced what it felt like to believe the old things and live my old life, and how much my emotions still often existed in this old space. What that looked like is that at times while writing this book, I was irrationally angry, shame-filled, depressed, and basically felt like I was flailing about for reasons I didn’t understand. Until I put together the puzzle pieces (with some help from friends) and realized I actually was processing some of the old traumas that my old faith put me through. “The only way out is through,” as the saying goes, and I was going through.
Trauma exists on a spectrum, and some of us have experienced BIG traumas from religion, some just a little, and some (miraculously?) none at all. In my book I try to help reframe the conversation around religious trauma to help people realize it doesn’t exist only in spaces that seem overtly traumatic – sexual abuse in churches comes to mind as an tragic example – but even in the very belief systems we are told MUST be true. Religious trauma can result in feelings of shame and excessive guilt related to religious experiences or beliefs; struggling to think independently (and without fear and guilt) after being told what to believe throughout your life; reactivity at old religious symbols, songs, practices, etc… and more!
The system I was raised in promised itself to be loving and grace-filled, while underneath this enticing surface, it was actually fear and shame-based, offering a controlling belief system and theology. There was only one correct way to believe, one atonement theology that was true (substitutionary penal atonement, for you theology nerds out there), and a multitude of right actions we needed to take in order to remain in the church’s good graces. We had to believe in a “loving” God who didn’t seem all that loving when you peeked under the surface, but this was not a reality we could ever bring ourselves to question.
This is not true freedom. This is not real grace.
Have you deconstructed your faith? Do you feel this began because of intellectual reasons or emotional ones? (or both!) Are you familiar with the concept of religious trauma, and if so, do you think this would apply to you?
[Visit www.religioustraumainstitute.com to take a survey helping them understand how people have been impacted by trauma!]