Wednesday, April 6, 2016

We're Alive On The Other Side of Religious Trauma

Before the bottom fell out from underneath of everything, before the poor handling of a sexual abuse disclosure, I had left behind a church I had treasured because I felt like a sore, sorta-Catholic, liberal thumb, doubts racing through my mind, nicotine flowing through my veins, a small dose of Seroquel numbing me a little so I could function in society.

And I couldn't put it into words. And when I can't something into words, I walk away. I listen to songs on repeat. I draw bad pictures. I feel and try to find the way to verbalize it, and I know I will be writing about this time in my life for years because even this post barely scratches the surface of it.

What has happened since that departure, I would not trade for anything. I have grieved a lot, but I've also discovered what were my beliefs, and what I had parroted for approval. I may come back to beliefs I had only parroted, but when I do, it will be because I am convicted. I found a fellowship of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks who walked the path of the wounded warrior as well. They grounded me, gave me space to vent, allowed the emotions to flow uninhibited and helped me piece together the wreckage, and they continue to give me the room to be my odd, confused self (see: sorta-Catholic, maybe-Episcopal, quasi-Pagan, bisexual, feminist, democrat).

I then watched on the sidelines as others went through the same journey, albeit with entirely different situations. I saw pastors sic mentors on former students and try to remold them back into their image. It didn't happen to me, but I watched it happen to two people I loved deeply, and my soul was shaken. I saw friendships blow up, fade away, die. I saw people who had puffed themselves as parental figures become bent out of shape when their proteges left their control and contradicted them. I watched people from various backgrounds, various churches, running for their very lives. I felt like I was ringing a bell for friends and calling

sanctuary. Come in. Come here. We don't have the answers, but we have a sneaking suspicion things can be other than this. 

Explaining religious trauma can become complicated. To the unreligious, it seems silly. These stories, these people, got to you? And looking at it through their eyes, I can see why they may think that. But while they may hold religion as a silly construct, they have the ability to relate, because all of them also had authority figures in their lives. So, to the nonreligious, all I can ask of you is: imagine if your authority figures wanted to control the narrative, control your direction, accuse you of not being one of their children/students/whatever because you held a different opinion, and then cast you out literally or metaphorically. If you can fathom that, you can begin to fathom religious trauma.

To the religious but untraumatized, it seems like making majors out of minors, people hurt because religion was imperfect. But it went deeper and was far more pathological than imperfection. It was manipulation, control, lies, maintenance of the status quo at all costs, victim blaming, being told to deny emotions and intuition, and systemic verbal, emotional, psychological, for some even physical, abuse. To make it all the more horrible, the story of Christ was the justification (a story I hold out hope will one day be beautiful to me again, but for now I have had to leave behind).

It was the projection and protection of a facade, not a broken community dealing openly and transparently with strident dysfunction (we all have that in spades, I have no illusions otherwise). And it can happen anywhere. Labels like liberal or conservative, or Baptist or Anglican, tell you nothing, because they can just be the facade someone is hiding under to use a religious narrative to attract and control others and build up their own ego.

I sometimes wonder if the religiously untraumatized are also denying the experiences of the hurting because if they admit it, they may have to look at themselves: are they being traumatized, or participating in the traumatization of others? That's a terrifying thought. The answer to both might be yes (I know it was for me). Better to pretend it doesn't exist or insist the victims are exaggerating than face something like that, because when you face it, it will hurt like hell and your whole life will be turned upside down.

This bruised reed will be here when it does. We'll go get coffee and talk about it, curse the darkness, and praise God for the cracks in everything, because that's how the light gets in.

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