Too many cliques

sea-67911_1920

My friends always tell me, “Give it time. It’s only been a year.”

Only been a year? No way! No fuckin way!

I can’t believe it’s only been a little over a year since I completely left religion. Since I stopped going to church, stopped doing ministry, and utterly stopped believing in God. It now feels like years since I made these changes. I feel I have aged so much in these past 14  months. I’ve gained wrinkles, lost hair and countless hours of sleep. I’ve spent hours, perhaps days searching and researching religious and spiritual topics. I’ve spent  time with friends in coffee shops, on the phone, and in various restaurants around my city picking other people’s brains about their view and beliefs. I’ve watched talks extensively over the internet and in person about other people struggles with religion.  It’s been exhausting, painstakingly exhausting.

And I have to continually remind myself that this colossally huge change occurred only a year ago. I want so badly to be further along. I want concrete answers and true beliefs. I want friends who are on the same spiritual page as me, not just Christian friends who sort of understand where I am coming from. I want a partner who is similar to me and can fill in the lonely gaps that creep up on me daily. I want a community of like minded individuals who strive towards wholeness and health. I want my job to focus on helping others who are leaving religion or changing their worldviews. I want to be out of therapy. I want the triggers and nightmares and anxiety to stop. I want to have moved on.

Move on? Is that even a thing? Is it even real? Or is it just something people say like “I’ve gotten over it” or “It no longer affects me.” I think that is bullshit, well mostly…maybe… I’m not sure. I can see how my triggers have lessened over the months. Now, when I am triggered, I can usually keep functioning and deal with it later, as opposed to having full on panic attacks like I had last year. I have less anger and animosity towards my former pastors and leaders. I’m happier and less depressed but I’m not sure I can ever fully move on. My past will always be there, haunting the corners of my mind, but I long for the day when it will be just that, the past, something I went through. A time that molded me into who I am now but it does not  define me, at least not anymore. Maybe I will be able to say “I moved on.” Maybe the impossible will finally be possible. Maybe in time.

Give it time.

Advertisements

The Process

photo-camera-219958_1280

I find myself frequently wishing this road, this shitty tunnel I seem to be stuck in would end. I wish I would somehow be at the end with answers, a better job, a relationship and just knowing more. I look around and my friends, who have gone through what I have and have had to relearn so much, seem to be so far ahead of me. Their shit is being taken care of. Their lives are getting fuller, they are happier. But I am still here, at the side of the cliff, yelling and shouting, waiting for something, anything to get better.

Because I do not go to church on Sundays, I try to fill in the church slot with nature or anything that fills me spiritually. Today, I went to an art festival with a friend and I found myself asking a gifted artist what her process was. She paused, thought for a moment, and told me she had different processes for different types of pieces. For portraits or sketches she copies, she is very strict and “less creative.” Other pieces, she goes with the charcoal or paints and allows herself not to worry about the end. She does not give up and allows herself to wait for the surprise.

I hate the process, but seeing my friends doing so much better, gives me hope. They help me to believe the process will make be stronger, more stable. They push me to continue to fight through the anxiety and to continue the search for answers. They remind me to love myself and take care of my mind, body, spirit in my own unique way. And maybe there is not one process or one result. Maybe we all need to continue to push into the colors, the textures, allowing ourselves to be consumed by the process and perhaps we will one day be whole.

Overwhelmed

mountain-climbing-802099_1280
Provided by Picabay.com
Too many words. Thoughts are colliding too quickly. I cannot seem to slow down my mind. Must calm down. I texted my friend hoping for some reality testing, some grounding. “Can you please tell me it was spiritual abuse? That I am justified in my pain and these thoughts?”

Some days are just too much, overwhelming. I was doing so well. I was finally making progress. No panic attacks. No triggers. Today, out of nowhere, early in the morning, Christian lyrics sang loudly in my head. I started to sing the words out loud but caught myself. Instant panic as I realized what song I was thinking of. My fingers quickly switched to Pandora and secular music was heard loudly in my apartment. So many curse words. It felt so good. Damn it, I thought, there goes my day. All day, anxiety. 10:22 pm, sitting on my floor, laptop on my crossed legs, I haven’t gotten over it.

The worse part is they don’t know about my pain, my hurt. My former pastors, internship pastor, mission director, countless others, have no idea. They are just continuing with their lives as my friends, former church members, former volunteers, and myself are dealing with anxiety, panic attacks and depression because of our experience at the church. None of us have simply gotten over it.

I have to remind myself, almost daily, that it was real. This is my past. It was not normal. It was more than mistreatment. It was spiritual abuse, and I  have spent every day of my life since remembering.

 

Ponderings in a smoky room

concerts-1150042_960_720

On Saturday night, I found myself among 500 fans who were excitedly dancing to a band we all loved. The room was dimmed, erupting our inner emotions we let lie dormant during the week, and keeping our  focus on the “leader,” the main singer. She danced, she sang, she led us in holding our hands up, to closing our eyes. For just a few hours, we were part of a large family, we knew who we were. My spirituality grew as the night passed, the familiar goosebumps and sway of my hips. This was all too familiar but this time, God was nowhere to be found in the room.

Growing up and in my college years, all the concerts and bands I saw were Christian, worship-focused bands, held in churches and large arenas. The names included Michael W. Smith, Jennifer Knapp, Jaci Valezquez, Newboys, IHOP, Hillsong, and many more I cannot remember, or honestly want to remember. At these worship sessions we paid good money for, the leaders told us when to stand, when to pray, when to be introspective, when to dance, and when it was time to be the closet to God. I remember the thousand dollars light shows, the expensive guitars and equipment as I stood among 50,000 people, all worshiping God and hoping for the Holy Spirit to move onto us.

We all wanted the feeling, we wanted to feel high. We wanted our night to be impacted, for our lives to be different the next day. But the change never seemed to come. We were never different. We just told others on Monday mornings about this “killer concert we went to” where we could “feel Jesus right next to us.” We were convicted, we repented, and we found hope every weekend in a stadium as we binged on feeling good, feeling like we were important as we prayed for nations and the world to be saved. We were disillusioned and lied to as we continued to shell out more money to the Pharisee worship leaders who told us empty promises and only led us to emptier lives on Sunday mornings.

I was back to my younger self, feeling the swell of emotions and goosebumps, but this time, it was the electricity of the music, the emotionally laden lyrics, and the community feel of hundreds of people having an experience together. I felt lied to by previous Christian idols who told me this feeling was God, that he was changing me. That I would be a better  person in the morning with answered prayers. But I will not force God to diminish himself any longer and be found in songs about kissing, running in fields, being a love addict, Jesus Freak, or any other way so I can feel something. These days, I listen to beautiful music with lovely lyrics that lead me to faraway places and talk about living, finding happiness, and spirituality. This is unforced music that changes me in small, minute ways.

Time is starting to heal

sunset-1207326_1280
Pixabay.com

Everyday I am a little more at peace: a conversation, an article, a walk in the woods. Each a step closer to finding answers, keeping the small glimpse of hope.

After treading water for years, this new found peace is concerning. I’m worried of this new feeling, it doesn’t seem to fit right. How can I be calm when I know so little? How can I be hopeful for my future and the future of others when I have no solid foundation to hold me up? I’m no longer treading water; I’m floating on my back in the ocean. No land surrounding, I find myself with eyes closed, letting the sun beat down on me. Peace.

I think I’m happy. It has been so long since I had this feeling that I am unsure if this is happiness. The anxiety is less when I talk about religion and beliefs. I am able to say the word “cult”. I have been unable to walk into a church these days but I have been having spiritual conversations with friends I trust. I’m becoming more than okay. I believe I am finally living.

State of Confusion

rosary-716250_1280

I still talk to him, while on a walk, in the shower, in the dead of night
No answer comes, ever, but I still pray
I don’t trust anymore and have an ever dwindling faith but I still say hello, I still say grace
I find that knee jerk reaction again and again, the sound of an ambulance, a cry, a child
I speak and start the compulsion, I start it once again, oh
“God please be with them, help…”
I pause, I stare
I cringe, I’m bare
It’s still so raw, so damn fuckin sore
It cuts my skin, my wounds
I don’t know, I don’t know what to do
My body and Brain, they have revolted, let me go back to that place, oh how they dare
I take it back,
I take it all back
I don’t pray
I don’t pray anymore

Surviving

war-1607955_1920

This unlearning, this being in the “real” world, has been exhausting. After officially leaving religion at the beginning of this year, I have been experiencing the world how non-evangelical Christians see the world. I have had emotions covering the whole spectrum, including loving the freedom, loving the newness, hating the unknown, frustrated that I feel so far behind from my non-religious counterparts, finding peace, and being lonely.

Oh the never ending loneliness. This year, I have never felt so alienated from everyone I know and do not know. I used to be able to relate to people by religion, saying “I am a Christian.” People understood who I was and I knew where I stood on almost everything, creation of the earth, where I was going when I died, how I would raise my children (god, I never wanted children), etc.Yes, I had a few  questions like was being a feminist wrong, is it okay if I do not want children, can I marry a non-Christian, but I always had the solid foundation. I even sang songs about God being my solid foundation.

Then everything was ripped out from under me. I had chosen to walk away from church, from my religion, my beliefs, and anything remotely Christian, including many of my friends, and I even ended up leaving a religious job. I found myself in limbo. I couldn’t hang with the Christians because they mostly talked about church, what the preacher said that Sunday, and other things I never longer cared about, and was honestly being triggered into a full-blown panic attack by these individuals. But I was also uncomfortable being around non-religious people who talked about sex, drugs, traveling (non-missionary traveling), and other things I knew very little about. In the Christian world, I was edgy and many times labeled rebellious. In the non-religious world, I was a prude with little life experience who had only dated one person (unheard of for a 27 year old female).

On Fridays, I am left utterly exhausted. I keep trying to hold it all together. I pretend I have my shit better together than I do. I walk with my head held high that are filled with a million questions and no answers. I lay awake around 12 or 1 am asking myself what I believe about the afterlife, or the Bible, or good vs. evil. My brain never stops buzzing. My body rarely sits still and keeps feeling too many emotions each week. I am struggling to find peace. I am failing at being okay with where I am. Everyday, I wish I could jump forward 5-10 years and be a stable 30-something year old. I am tired of crying. I am tired of screaming. I want to live again, instead of simply surviving.