I went to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn this weekend to see them for the first time in almost a year. It was hard for a number of reasons, but mostly because I haven’t seen anyone in my family for nearly a year. Nearly a year since I came out to my family, nearly a year since they stopped paying for tuition at my college, nearly a year since my independence became my liberation.

I consider myself estranged, but it’s complicated. Complicated like, in the process of cutting myself off from the two people who are the problem, I had to cut myself from two people who aren’t. Complicated like, that’s why I traveled for 7 hours this Saturday to see my grandparents for the first time in a year.

I’m not going home for Thanksgiving — which is partially why I took that trip. My grandparents don’t know what happened. They don’t understand the particulars of my parents loved their church more than they loved supporting me where I was at. All they knew is, I hadn’t been back in a year and they didn’t know if I would be. So I went back. 

If I could have my way, I wouldn’t be back for Christmas either. Maybe I won’t. I told my grandparents I would, just for that day. But the reality is, it would be like stepping back into the past, into everything I ran from, everything I’ve worked for years to mentally escape and paid for to physically escape. Into a room full of people who never really met me,who only saw the girl I was when I was still trapped, still brainwashed, still desperate and hurting and hoping. Such a timid, standoffish, limited girl. That is not who I am anymore. That is so far past who I am.

In the eight or so months since I became independent, everything about me has changed. It feels like my whole soul gets transfigured in a new way every week, and it’s liberating as all hell. My outlook on life, my life itself, is so radically different. But going back threatens to strip it all away for the time while I’m there.

On the bus back, watching the buttery yellows of the sky melt into raw pale blues behind the dimming silhouettes of houses, I reflect on what I’d do this time around if my past came back at me for a second round. If someone was on top of me I’d fight dirtier. If I ran away again, I wouldn’t come back. If I threw a punch I’d make sure it was a knockout. If I snuck a vitamin into the toilet I’d remember to flush. If they turned on those cameras throughout the corners of the house, I’d smash ’em. Shit like that.

But the reality is back then, I didn’t have any of the power I have now. None of the perspective. No money saved up. No distance. No one willing to help me when shit went down, because shit had not gone down yet. No, it was just me, just me and a duffel bag and a map of the roads to walk down when my parents’ home became a home to them alone. The way it went down is the only way it could have gone down.

I’ve recovered from so much more than I ever imagined. There are still some knots to tug at, though, reminders of how powerful old ghosts can be even when you’ve banished them from most parts of you. I still feel a shot of terror as I flinch when my roommate walks in the door. I still angle my computer screen away from corners of the ceiling. I still have trouble setting down my phone, and the password is twice as long as average. I still cry and feel violated when sex hurts. I still have flashbacks. I still feel unbridled bouts of rage when I see the people involved in my former high demand religious groups. I still have trauma anniversaries — including Thanksgiving and Christmas season itself — times when it feels the past all congeals together and comes rushing back to swallow me whole, to forget who I am, to forget that it’s over.

I still have that duffel bag packed. It’s in my closet. Part of me thinks it always should be. I should never forget what I came from, it makes all this joy and freedom sweeter — and realer. It represents so much pain, so much fear, so much from the long stretches of time I thought I was going to die. That suffering is still the most familiar thing to me. Sometimes it is even a comfort. It is what I turn to. It is what I know.

Because it IS all I knew. At least two Christmases, I was suicidal. Thanksgivings, too, I was forced into traumatic situations without exception, and I was always with my family when it happened. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to become that person again. I rooted out most of the psychological toll it all took on me. But at times like those, it comes roaring out of the corner. I feel engulfed in despair, in horror, in disempowerment. It feels like it’s still happening. I almost forget the person I am now.

Winter holidays are hard for me. I’ve set down a lot of the baggage digging deep into my shoulders, but I still have a duffel in the closet. 


A Better View: The Power of Stories We Rewrite About Ourselves

I’ve been having lots and lots of thoughts and epiphanies about recovery lately. About who I am, about the way I tell the tale of my life, and about the future I hope to have. Really, this is a post about storytelling and recovery and identity and life, and where all those fun things intersect.

Last September, I took a trip to the woods. It’s a beautiful, serene park, a place I started going to in the spring when things were at their worst for me. Just before the summer began, I sat on a hill in those woods and hurt. Ached. I felt so raw, so much agony, because I was heading into an era that I truly believed I would not survive. At the same time, I was losing someone who mattered really deeply to me. I felt so alone and in pain and unsure. 

When I left those woods, I promised to the sharpening golden light, the fallen limb, the evening air, that if I survived all that I was about to go through, I would come back.

And I did survive. And I came back to those woods, that September. I came upon the same spot I had sat in a few months before, in all that blinding, drowning hurt. And I did sit in that spot again, for a little while. Taking in the impossible fact that I thought I would not live and yet I did anyway. 

But after a bit, I stood up. I started walking up that hill. I sat on a crest just above that spot, and the view changed. I was still hurting. I still felt lost and unsure, and I had to deal with everything that had happened over the summer, and all that was still coming. But the view changed. I could see where I had sat last summer, and it reminded me of where I was now. There was a cool breeze where I was, and I felt safer, taller. A better view.

The Stories We Tell Can Trap Us

All of that struggle and loss, set in those woods months, changed the way I see things, the way I tell my stories about myself, the way I give power to a perspective.

Not so long ago, I read a great article by Neil Carter over at Godless in Dixie about the stories we tell ourselves. He wrote,

If being human means anything, it means telling stories. Everything we do is tempered and directed by the stories we tell ourselves and each other, and nothing can change a life more thoroughly than discovering a new story in which we find ourselves…

And he’s right. There are a few stories I’ve been living with – living under – for a long, long time. The most obvious one is Christianity’s story of who I am and who humanity is. Of what the good life is, and what my future can and should be.

As a Christian, I was told the story of broken humanity. That being human means being inherently wicked, and weak, and selfish, and damned, and blah blah blah. The good life, I was told, meant being God’s slave and damn grateful for it. Of course, in much nicer code, but that’s what it was to me. This blog is obviously the product of years and years of undoing the damage of those stories.

Taking the Power Out of the Story (and Writing It Back In)

I’ve been realizing that there are larger stories about who I am, what a good life is, and what my future can look like that I’ve been buying into too. These are not religious or personal. These are cultural.

For instance, I’m thinking about graduating from university early. And the reality of that has made me think about what life after college might look like. What do I want it to look like? I have a pretty good idea of what that would be, and it’s tied right into how I imagine my recovered self to be.

The thing is, I’m really not into the typical stories of living out your life in a modern Western society. A 9-5 job, an apartment or a house, getting married and having kids, retiring. It sounds like something – something familiar, and thrilling, and ancient – is missing. I don’t want a simple life. I have no idea what that means, but I know it.

Last night I, uh, kinda sorta read an 83 page thesis on alternative perspectives of recovery from mental illness (Alexandra Lynne Adame, University of Miami, 2006). I know, I know, not exactly my idea of a Saturday night activity. But I was curious about what recovery could look like, if there were any other options for me.

And what I read was fascinating. Basically, in the 60s and 70s, lots and lots of people who had been abused and traumatized by the mental health system formed a community. They called themselves “psychiatric survivors” and “ex-patients.” They redefined what mental illness and recovery meant to them.

It was no longer about reducing your symptoms, or giving so much power to a diagnosis label. It was about holistic wellness, finding community and peer support, and seeing how your environment and systems of disadvantage could be responsible for your disorder (re-termed struggles, extreme emotional states, and crises) just as much as your brain chemistry. Recovery is not just about having an individually happy life, but making the world a better place for others who are being affected by the same structural issues you were. 

And I really dig that. I really dig the concept of taking power out of a story. For psychiatric survivors, there was so much power held over them by the medical model of illness and recovery that mental health professionals had given them. They were told that their illness was all in their brain, and that while they could come to function better in society, they’d never fully recover, making them dependent on meds and therapy and treatment that traumatized them for the rest of their lives.

So I can see how activism, community, collectivism, holistic wellness, and rewriting the story could be really empowering to psychiatric survivors. I’ll be adopting parts of the way they see their illness/struggles and recovery/wellness myself.

I’m also thinking about how I can apply this lesson to the bigger stories I’m hearing about a good life. A 9-5 job, a house, kids. I can be more skeptical about what I’ve always been told about the good life and who I am. By reshaping common cultural stories of life, future, identity, purpose, and spirit for myself, maybe I can find power. A better view.

Life Update: I Want to Help People Recover from Religion, Social Work Style!

Alright, I’ve been sitting on this news for way longer than I’d like, but I’ve been so swamped lately that I haven’t had time to write it out. Finally, here it is…

I finally figured out what I might wanna do after college!

I want to be a social worker, combining clinical work and community building to help people who are marginalized.

Whether at a political nonprofit, and university with queer or non-white students, and community center with Asian Americans and immigrants… I wanna be a therapist and an activist, helping people heal, grow, organize, and work for change, so that communities can become better places for the people living in them.

This is… new for me. I was absolutely against looking into social work at first, actually. I’d just lost someone dear who was related to the field, and I’d always had a negative view of social work. But multiple different people told me, once I spouted off a few things I might want to do as a career, that that’s exactly what social work is! 

So… I started going to my university’s professional development center, talked to a career counselor, and after months of research and thinking and dreaming, here I am. Boom.

Here’s the best part: I’m most passionate about working with people who are recovering from or transitioning away from their religious communities or lives (GOD do I need a shorter way to say that!) I especially feel for young people like me who are trapped in religious environments and will be punished or disowned if they leave.

I’ve got dreams. I want to be a therapist, but I also really want to build a community of ex-religious people and organizations to help us. Maybe one day we could have a shelter for kids escaping abusive religious homes or cults. And an organization that provides both counseling and legal/financial/housing support for recovery and leaving. And so on.

This is how I’m pursuing that dream…

I’ve officially declared my majors, Psychology and Sociology. My university doesn’t have a bachelor’s SW degree, but Psych and Soc are just as well (and while I’m wary about majoring in Psych, I love Soc, which also just fell into my lap this semester.) 

Also… I finally went ahead and became an agent on Recovering from Religion’s Hotline/Chatline! I’ve been wanting to since last spring, but I didn’t feel ready til now, and I’m so excited. Hearing people’s stories, being there to support others who’ve been hurt by or are trying to live beyond their religions, that’s unspeakably awesome.

also applied for a fellowship with my university. I proposed internships about therapy with people exiting/recovering from religion, and the interview gave me lots to think about presenting myself for jobs, internships, and grad school in the future. People have lots of misconceptions about what “recovering from religion” might mean, lemme tell ya.

And of course, I am still co-running The Art of Leaving, a blog for people who are recovering from and building lives after harmful religions.

Finally, next semester, I just might start my own Recovering from Religion support group on campus.

I never imagined myself here, and I’m still wrapping my head around it

All this future planning and daydreaming and gushing is great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still trying to come to terms with it.

Four years ago, God owned me. I was going to go to a Bible Institute for 2 years, try to figure out how God wanted to use life for his glory. I would’ve ended up in ministry or missionary work. Weeks ago, students from an Evangelical college came to sociology class, and I sat on one side of the room thinking how easily I could have ended up on the other.

Now I’m here. Struggling to survive. Barely hanging in there. Yet doing these things, nursing these dreams, to help other people leave the God I once loved with all I had.

I did the one thing I was never supposed to do. The thing I prayed and prayed I would never do. Leave. And now, I want to do maybe the most blasphemous thing I can think of… Help other people leave. I’m truly an elect gone rogue. 😛

This is where I’m at. Can I wrap my head around it yet? NOPE. But two things come to mind. First, a Nayyirah Waheed poem from Nejma.

“do not choose the lesser life. do you hear me. do you hear me. choose the life that is. yours. the life that is seducing your lungs. that is dripping down your chin.”

This is a life I can get behind. Activism. Community building. Counseling. Helping people find or create the power to build better lives. Micro and macro. Heretic helper. Apostate ally. Rooting for the marginalized. At a nonprofit, within a community, with a fox, in a box, these are my green eggs and ham. This is the life that is dripping down my chin.

And second, this inspiring piece by Yasmine, an ex-Muslim who’s got some serious heart.

“And we will pave the way. Every scar on our hearts, our minds, and sometimes our bodies, will be worth it, because the next generation of ex-Muslims will have it easier. We are making sure of that. They will never know what if feels like to be completely alone because we will reach out to them online, no matter where they are on the globe. They will never feel like they are crazy. They will never feel like they are the only one on the planet to ever feel this way. They will never feel like they have no choice but to follow the status quo. We will be their net. And we will be there for them if they happen to fall.”

This is why I blog, why I want to work with and for the ex-religious. Because no one understands the struggles, the victories, the needs, the wishes, of people who are looking to leave harmful religions like we do ourselves. Because no one will care to talk about or help us until we make the conversations happen. Because we stop feeling so alone/crazy/hopeless once we know that other people are going through this too, that they survived, that they’re there to listen.

We have to build our own community, across former religions, between former Catholic and cult, former Muslim and Mormon. We have to write our own blogs and articles, share our own stories, build our own networks. And that’s what we’re doing. 

That’s what I’ll be doing, too. I hope you’ll join me.

When God is Love, but God is a Monster

[ Image is a meme I have seen in multiple places, but can’t find credit for. ]

What do you do when you love a monster?

(Cue In Love with a Monster by Fifth Harmony in the background… Zoinks.)

I’ve been struggling so much in the past month… a few things always on my mind, and of course, all of them have to do with God. It doesn’t help that Tyler Glenn’s been dropping a new song every Friday and his album (EXCOMMUNICATION) debuts on October 21. GDMML Girls, Gates, and Midnight all have me wrecked further than I already was.

So unfortunately I’m not feeling irreverent or cheeky today. I wanted to let you all know about the Ex-Religious Resource Directory I’ve been working on; celebrate me realizing that I want to become a social worker to help the ex-religious (it was so exciting); spotlight Tyler Glenn and how incredibly important his songs are to me from one non-heterosexual religion-leaver to another. But this is the post I have to offer you, here, today.

I don’t know what love is. To be completely honest? I don’t think it exists. And if it does, the last thing people should do is trust it.

I used to know what love was. God was love. God was the paragon of true love itself. God was the only person who would EVER love me fully and permanently. That was because God knew how ugly and selfish I was, am, and will be, and he still accepted me anyway. No human, even people who were supposed to love me like my parents, could ever love me like God did, because God was love. In fact, the only reason humans are capable of love is because even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)

I used to know what love was. God was not just love, he was Love. Love died on the cross for me and he died once more every time I sinned. Love shaped me while I was in my mother’s womb, knew me before I was born. Love walked with me beside still waters. Was with me through the valley of the shadow of death. Love restored my soul.

Love was there when I worshipped in a sanctuary steeped in silhouette and melody, the lights dim, my voice up, when singing praise felt as intimate and warm as resting my head in the crook of Love’s neck. Love was there at every single daybreak as the sun, eviscerating light, anointed my bowed head and gilded every holy page. Love was there at every funeral, during every test, through every night I lay awake with seemingly nothing but Love left to live for.

Love was sacred and looming. Love was gentle and furious. Love was more ancient, arcane, terrifying and beautiful than the whales that sang, the winds that whistled, the stars that hummed on frequencies the human ear cannot even fathom, as the whole earth sang for Love’s glory.

God was Love. Love loved me. And I loved him. Love was my everything. Love was the only Love there was, the only Love that mattered, the only Love that could be.

And then I started ninth grade. And I learned that Love…

Love commanded rapists to marry their victims and pay the victims’ fathers.

Love said to stone to death men who slept with men… their blood be upon them.

Love told the Israelites to murder every man, woman, and child of a people who did not worship him… but to keep the virgins for themselves. God killed the entire world because people weren’t good enough for him. 

Love struck a couple dead on the spot for lying to Peter.

Love caused the earth to swallow alive 250 men and their innocent wives, children, and servants… for daring to rebel against Moses.

Love caused a bear to fatally maul teenage boys for making fun of Elisha’s baldness. Talk about not being able to take a joke.

Love (in Jesus Mode) said he did not come to bring peace, but the sword.

Love will ship me off for an eternal dunk in the lake of fire, a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, where the flame does not cool and the worm does not die, unless I give up everything I am, own, and care for to serve him alone.

And I still love him. And I don’t know what to do with that. Because God was love, but God is a genocidal, slavery-enabling, misogynistic, narcissistic abuser with a taste for blood. And I lived the past few years thinking I no longer loved him… but I do. It should be disgusting, shameful, a betrayal of my self and everything he and his people put me through. But I still love him: God, Love, monster, master, father, husband… the face hovering over dark waters, the blinding light and the rushing wind he has always been.

If that was Love to me so profoundly and completely for so long, then how can I ever trust what “love” is again? Is love even real? If it is, is it good? What is love?

I don’t know. Maybe someday, I will. But right now, I find that… hard to believe. Hard to even want.

Do you know?

Situational Mutism: All the Things I Never Got to Say

I’m Max, and I have situational mutism.

I always thought it was just me. It was just in my head. Just a personality flaw. I was just shy… I was just too quiet… it was just out of my control.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble speaking. To classmates. To teachers. To professors. To waiters. To strangers. To friends. Even to my parents.

It’s not something I can fully explain, even now at age 19… but sometimes when I want to speak, when I need to speak, I just can’t.

Imagine writer’s block for your vocal chords. You’ve got a conversation you want to join or start and you want to speak. You have the words right there, swimming in your head. You know what you want to say. You open your mouth. You try to speak…

But you can’t.

And you don’t even really know why. You try to talk, try to move your vocal chords, but your throat won’t let your voice out. You could try for hours and it wouldn’t work. You’ve tried before. You’ll try again.

I’ve lived like this for a long time. Far longer than I’m willing to stomach. These “mute attacks” rule my life. I couldn’t speak to my classmates, my teachers, the school nurse, other kids I didn’t know. It took massive efforts to break the silence, and now I’m way better at speaking than I used to be, but muteness still prevents me from so much conversation I desperately want to have.

Of course, I wasn’t mute all the time. When I was around people I was comfortable with, like my brother, my parents, or quiet friends at school, I could talk freely… and when I was most relaxed, I spoke my fair share! I screamed, yelled, laughed, annoyed the hell out of my parents, joked, conspired – everything kids are infamous for.

But being mute always got the fattest slice of my time. I was known as the really quiet girl, and I’ve been living under the weight of that label for a long time. It’s so lonely, so frustrating, so depressing. Imagine being an extrovert who goes mute (it’s… wild. Trust me.) People lose interest… and they treat you like an object.

Both kids and adults seem to think that a person without a voice is a person undeserving of respect. They mock you to your face, and when you don’t laugh they mock some more; they get angry and punish you; they ignore you. They think you have no personality, no opinions, no intelligence, nothing worth listening to.

Dead wrong. 

But how would they ever know that? They can’t hear that joke you cracked, that point you made, that tidbit of information you had to offer. They can’t hear you desperately hoping you’ll finally break the silence this time, repeating the dog-eared words you wanna say over and over, but failing time and time again to get them out.

They don’t know that deep down, you believe that you’re a radiant, funny, playful, affectionate, dimensional person trapped in the labyrinth of your vocal chords. You are the only person who’ll believe in you, because you’re the only person who knows. But the years go on and you keep being that boring quiet kid… how can you prove who you really are when you can’t say a word?

I don’t know how to begin to describe how trapped, stupid, useless, cowardly, boring, bored, frustrated, enraged, isolated, etc. ad infinitum living like this has made me feel. See, I never knew that this “mute switch” was something that other people suffered from too. Until a week ago, I thought it was just me. 

Because a week ago, I realized that all of the above – the silence that’s swallowed me whole, trapped me in my head, crippled my voice – isn’t normal. I realized that my quietness is a pattern. I realized that even though I’ve made huge strides in overcoming my mutism, I have a long long way to go. I realized that this is not living, and if I want to start, I have to overcome this. So I did what any self-respecting person with a question and a keyboard would do. I Googled it.

Selective mutism – sometimes known as situational mutism – is a childhood anxiety disorder in which a child is physically unable to speak in certain social settings because the expectation to speak makes them so anxious – 90% of children with SM also have social anxiety. It’s caused by genetic predisposition, an inhibited personality, childhood loss, even seemingly nothing at all, and it’s most often diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 8. The earlier you spot it, the better chance you have at beating it, because it’s not something you just “grow out of” yourself.

My first thought: oh my God! I’m not crazy! IT’S NOT JUST ME! I’m not a freak! It’s not all my fault! There’s a name for this!

My second thought: holy shit, I’ve got a LOT OF WORK to do.

I have a few thoughts bouncing around my head about how religion and my situational mutism intersect… and I’m sure I’ll share ’em soon. But for now, I thought I’d make this rambly post just to celebrate, get out 19 years of silence for the first time out of my system, and spread some awareness! Maybe there’s someone else out there whose AAH! AHA! moment is waiting for them. If so, here it is 🙂

If you wanna learn more, check out Amber Colon’s blog (she’s an advocate, making a documentary, & recovered from SM), iSpeak (by actual people with SM), and SMIRA (lots of good resources for parents & teachers).

PS: I know this post is not the most concise or eloquent… but my whole life, I’ve been held back by wanting to make things perfect, being afraid of how people will respond. I refuse to do that today. My hands have got a lot of slack to pick up! 🙂

Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões, Flickr ]

How “The Village” Illustrates Isolated, Fear-Based Homeschooling

Hi guys, sorry for the wait! I’m involved in a social justice festival at my university (running it while also leading 4 events), so this week has been jammin, but also jam packed. I should be able to get back to regular blogging by mid-February.

Anyway, I found this an interesting read in light of my last article:

“Forgive us for our silly lies, Ivy, they were not meant to harm.” No, it was not meant to harm. But it did.

Source: How “The Village” Illustrates Isolated, Fear-Based Homeschooling

Why Public Speculation about the Duggar Children’s Sexuality Should Be Off Limits

The points this article makes are so relevant. By using speculations about children’s sexualities as a weapon against their parents, you run a huge risk of turning their parents against them. Don’t use the children of fundamentalists for laughs.

Let’s stop making children’s sexual identities a thing of snark or speculation.

Source: Why Public Speculation about the Duggar Children’s Sexuality Should Be Off Limits

Take the Red Pill: A Letter to Questioning Christians

Dear Questioning Christian, Scared Christian, Queer Christian, Abused, Disordered, and Traumatized Christian, and “Christian”:

Take the red pill.

I’d bet money that any ex-fundamentalist, when asked if realizing that their answer bank to ALL the big questions was horrifically 2-D is like starring in a debatably less weird version of The Matrix, will answer with a resounding YEP. 

See, if you’re doubting, if you’re hesitantly curious or furtively Googling or silently mulling, if you realize that you might not believe in all that stuff anymore? You’ll end up with two choices. You can continue compartmentalizing your questions and take the blue pill – in which, let me be clear, there is no shame. We all take the blue pill during our lives, repeatedly and frequently, and it’s the only way we can ever get to the second choice, after we weigh the fear and risk and pain: to formally acknowledge to yourself that you’re not fully on board with the Christian life anymore, and take the red pill.

We took the red pill, but it didn’t go down easy. No, we touched the tips of our tongues against it, grimaced, hurled it across the room. We balanced it on the crowns of our teeth for months so we wouldn’t have to taste it. We summoned the courage to swallow it but we retched. We finally swallowed it and then we made ourselves throw it back up again.

But there’s only so long you can corral the part of you that’s ensnared in doubt and the part of you that’s terrified of what you’ll lose if you give that doubt an audience. You could end up breast-stroking through the eternal flames of hell. You could be kicked out, disowned, shunned by the church family. You could be left cold in a world you spent your whole life keeping away from with a 1000-foot pole and an upturned nose. I know. We know.

But pill casing doesn’t hold up forever. Eventually it disintegrates into a powdery mess. Eventually that shit gets all over the place. Eventually you have to bite that terrifying, monumental, revolutionary red bullet.

Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning. The pill doesn’t work in 5 minutes, 5 days, even 5 months. Instead of releasing a healing payload, it incites a full-body revamp to accommodate that payload. It’s a rougher ride for some of us than others, which can result in Religious Trauma Syndrome, a form of Complex-PTSD, always a fun party guest.

I’ll be frank. Overcoming an fundamentalist upbringing can be ass, especially with RTS. It’s cleaning up the brainwashing (ironically.) It’s being terrified of God’s wrath or convinced of your worthlessness even if you don’t believe anymore. It’s waking up in the morning and wondering what was abnormal or wrong about any of it. It’s the dissonance you feel when people treat your childhood like a lurid spectacle, a juicy news story, or a Sad Life Show and the fury when people gaslight and invalidate you.

Amidst the aforementioned bullshit, you find yourself swamped with even more questions. Did anyone else from church end up like this? Was it your fault for enforcing the teaching on yourself? Are you making this all up?

Look through your church’s doctrine. Think about the lessons you’ve been taught. I listed some common messages that I grew up with and I have seen many other deconverts talk about. Read them. Ask yourself if they resonate with something inside you.

An example of why humans are naturally sinful is how babies cry from the moment they are born. 

Does it seem ridiculous that voicing the need to have your body fed, to have your physical needs met so that you can continue living on Earth, is considered morally wrong, selfish, and worthy of condemnation to hellfire? (Although, maybe not all of the above teachings are off… I’ve definitely seen some sinful deep V’s in my time.)

A lot of us grieve what we lost in the full-hearted “pursuit of a relationship with Jesus Christ.” When you take the red pill, with time, it becomes clearer that things you might have sacrificed for the religion you loved might have been given up in vain. It hurts. A lot.

Let me be clear. For many of us who deconvert, it’s a years-long, confusing, suppressed, even subconscious journey. It’s vacillating  between I still believe in some of this and I feel like there’s something off about X belief, but I don’t know what and it’s way too scary/dangerous to figure out what, so I’m gonna shove it aside. Maybe forever. Even after we reach a tipping point where we admit to ourselves that we can’t keep forcing the doubts out and decide to let ourselves question – after we take the red pill – we don’t magically find the answers. We make our own answers, and that’s different for every one of us.

We explore different religions. We go atheist. We do a combination of both. We are angry, forgiving, or both in different amounts. We feel utterly and terrifyingly lost and alone. We feel like idiots. We feel like victims. We feel like survivors. Some of us bike sort of aimlessly for, like, hundreds of miles for years. We all have a different red pill. There is no Deconversion Schedule™ that Every True Deconvert follows, although some of us have brainstormed common stages.

Welp, that’s depressing.

Deconverting is a lot. It’s something I would never wish on someone not already in or entering the process. But I WOULD urge it to anyone who is. Because deconverting can feel like shit, but getting off the Jesus Train to Nowhere can be, and I’d bet many of us would say is, the best thing to ever happen to us. When a world falls to pieces, when a relationship seemingly takes a headshot, that sucks.

But it also frees up the emotional space and, for many of us, the first real emotional energy to build a life and narrative unpoliced and unbound by abusive spirituality. Plus, we realize that things we always hated and were terrified of (dating, Harry Potter, the gays) are actually 1) normal and 2) a lot of fun to get involved with. Up to and including the gays.

Ever since my first day of freshman year, I:

  • got a free, competent therapist who has a wonderful That’s Bullshit face, great taste in Netflix, and a real handle on… everything that is me
  • had the privilege of going by my preferred name, Max, for 4 days
  • use my preferred pronouns (repping that ey/em/eir) freely without fear of judgment or danger
  • am involved in campus clubs, learning 3 languages, have a beautiful squad of supportive friends, and am Vice President of a queer club despite thinking “gay” was a curse word just 4 years ago
  • chose recovery from depression and binge eating
  • got a free binder from an actual non-binary employed and established adult who is not the only one on campus (?!?!)
  • and best of all, had the energy for the first time in my LIFE to occasionally be who I truly am: social, cheerful, warm, and queer. as. fuck.

I’m Max, I swallowed the red pill, and I’m not gonna lie, it tastes like ass AND chocolate on the way down and that can be really confusing. Depending on where you are in this journey, this can be absolutely terrifying and overwhelming. It might also resonate with a voice inside you. You might need to take a break from this letter. To forget you ever read it. To drown your doubts. To plunge headfirst back into what you’ve always believed. That’s okay. Do that if you need. Be safe.

But please know, if you decide to take the red pill? If you ever think you might want to but don’t know how? We are here. I am here. We’re a community, with a sense of humor and real grit. Below, I’ll list some bloggers who have helped me, and you can also view the Resources list I compiled for leavers of multiple fundamentalist religions.

We’re leavers, pill takers, world shapers, falling in love with a life way, way fucking better than Christianity always told them it would be. We are very much alive. We’re forging new happinesses, finding new gods, forgoing the old chains. So. Dear questioning Christian, scared Christian, queer Christian, abused, disordered, and traumatized Christian, and “Christian”:

When the time comes, take the red pill. We are right here with you.

Max Tang

Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems

Love this. I don’t know where I’d be without Dr. Carol Winell coining and championing the validity of Religious Trauma Syndrome. Her workbook was what first opened me up the reality that my past was fucked up and more importantly that it was valid.


Religious Trauma Syndrome- AnguishAt age sixteen I began what would be a four year struggle with bulimia.  When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister.  “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said.  “It will be done.” I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers.

But my horrible compulsions didn’t go away. By the fall of my sophomore year in college, I was desperate and depressed enough that I made a suicide attempt. The problem wasn’t just the bulimia.  I was convinced by then that I was a complete spiritual failure. My college counseling department had offered to get me real help (which they later did). But to my mind, at that point, such help…

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