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.

Advertisements

INFIDEL VIBES (A 20-Song Mix for the Ex-Religious)

Hey all, and happy Sunday! Around two weeks ago, I joined an online chat group for ex-religious people (a great place to commiserate and celebrate all things ex-religius, by the way. Come say hey if you’re into it!) 

Yesterday was a quiet night for me, and long story short, I found myself compiling some heathen jams for our chat group. I’m always on the lookout for songs with “infidel vibes” (excuse my crude humor), so I thought I’d share the playlist with you all too, along with why I included each song, and see if you’ve got any recs.

Here it is!

1. “Trash” (Tyler Glenn): “Trash” has been my anthem since I first saw the incredible (and blasphemous) music video. It’s such a raw, flagrant song straight from the gut. And it fits its singer. Tyler Glenn is a gay ex-Mormon who sang “Trash” about his relationship with the LDS church after it banned LGBTQ members, and he’s promised a full album about “the pain of a faith crisis and the darkness of doubt.” His Facebook post on reclaiming yourself with that red X is worth the read.

I repent my days away“… as a Christian I spent my days repenting. Now I repent of those wasted days. Powerful stuff huh?

2. “Heathens” (twenty one pilots): This one’s a no-brainer for me. “Heathens” has got a distinct ex-cult vibe with lyrics steeped in paranoia, desperation, and repression. It echoes, for me, that too-familiar muffled fear and constant vigilance in the pews.

3. “Blasphemy” (Bring Me the Horizon): Another no-brainer. This entire damn song is perfect for ex-religious people. If you want some alternative metal that really taps into post-deconversion anger and disillusionment? This is it. “Was it all for nothing? / Cause we’ve found no sign and we see no light / We hear no voice when we pray at night. 

4. “This is Gospel” (Panic! at the Disco): Okay, so after 18 years of a musical repertoire that consisted exclusively of 2 Christian radio stations, P!atD is my first love. I chose “This is Gospel” and “Emperor’s New Clothes” because they symbolize that visceral need for freedom that so many of my ex-religious friends share. And, of course, the music videos segue into each other. “This is Gospel” is more civil and communicative; I wish I could tell my Christian family, “if you love me, let me go.”

5. “Emperor’s New Clothes” (Panic! at the Disco): Not only is the music video is fucking cool, but it represents to me the transition from asking for freedom from religion to wrenching it away with both hands. Deconversion is a long-ass fall, and it transformed me into what looked at the time like a monster. But it also allowed me to reclaim the darkest, beastliest parts of me that religion had shamed into my deepest recesses. There’s power there. 

6. “Battle Cry” (Angel Haze): Angel Haze is such a badass. Pansexual, agender (they pronouns), ex-Greater Apostolic Faith and a survivor of child sexual abuse. They’re courageous and unflinching, and many of their songs have major ex-religious themes. Listen to this: “I woke up one morning, stopped believing in Jesus / stopped believing in churches I stopped believing in preachers / I realized I was a teacher, not just one of the heathens.

7. “Pretty Lies” (Written by Wolves): Man, I wish I had this song when I first deconverting. It’s an infectious, fast-paced anthem that captures what it’s like to be caught between your religious doubts and the fear of being wrong or getting punished – and letting that fear drive you rather than consume you. 

8. “Doubt” (twenty one pilots): Another take on fears and doubts, but instead of weaponizing them, “Doubt” wrestles them. Anxiety, mindfuckery & co. are almost inevitable for secret nonbelievers: “scared of my own ceiling / scared of my uncertainty,” and “shaking hands with the dark parts of my thoughts? no. / you are all that I’ve got? no.”

9. “Ribcage” (Mary Lambert ft. Angel Haze, K.Flay): More Angel Haze! In the music video, Mary sings in a room cast in blue shadow, faced by a crescent of unmoving people. It’s a powerful metaphor, to me, of the disconnection and despair of losing religious friends and family. “Telling the truth, it might mean you get broken / but letting it hurt, that’s my method of copin“. 

10. “Same Love” cover (Angel Haze, originally by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis): Wow. This cover still makes me feel things on a body level. Such an unflinching message about being a queer kid breaking free of religion… and “No I’m not gay, no I’m not straight, and I’m sure as hell not bisexual” – that pansexual representation. Here for it.

11. “Hallelujah” (Panic! at the Disco): When I finally got a Spotify at age 18, “Hallelujah” was one of the first songs I fell in love with! It feels like a joyful celebration, like reclaiming religious words I used to take way too seriously.

12. “Bad Believer” (St. Vincent): Figured this mix needed a dose of nonchalant cheer, so here’s some St. Vincent. “What do you know, I’m just a bad believer; show me your stones” is such a nonchalant line, I love it.

13. “Bad Reputation” (Joan Jett): Ohoh was this song written for me. If I had theme songs for different parts of my life, this would be the one for church. Whoops.

14. “Wild Horses” (Bishop Briggs): Not only is this just a gorgeous blend of upbeat synthetics and laidback acoustics, but “Oh glory, I’m a believer / Oh glory, I’m a troubler” -yeah, it feels like it’s one or the other these days.

15. “Control” (Halsey): I’ve “turned all the mirrors around” on more than one occasion (to, you know, cast out vanity and all.) And Halsey’s chorus is a great reminder… when it comes to the “body” of Christ that hurt us, we’re the bigger people.

16. “Sinner” (Andy Grammer): A nostalgic, almost tender look at how massive a part God played in shaping me from birth. Pretty much every line in the first verse spot-on describes how … “brick by brick and piece by piece.”

17. “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” (Hozier): Those opening lines are applicable to too many ex-religious kids. “I watch the work of my kin bold and boyful / toying somewhere between love and abuse… freshly disowned in frozen devotion / no more alone or myself could I be.”

18. “Foreigner’s God” (Hozier): I love how blasphemous Hozier is, and he does it in such poetic, graceful ways. “Since some liar brought the thunder when the land was godless and free“… that Liar’s thunder can’t touch us anymore. Also, godless = free? Love it.

19. “Take Me to Church” (Hozier): Does this one need explaining? What better song to cap this nonbeliever mix with than one where “I was born sick but I love it… every Sunday’s getting more bleak, a fresh poison each week.” Don’t I know it.

20. “Black Synagogue” (Angel Haze): I left this one off the actual playlist because it opens and closes with sermon (listen with discretion), but there’s no way I couldn’t throw it in. I strongly recommend at least skimming the lyrics… ’cause what a strong show of the before, during, ‘n after of doubting and searching, from seeking God to ultimately finding God in yourself.

That’s what I’ve got! What about you? Any songs we should add to this playlist? It’s a (heathen) collective effort, so drop your thoughts in the comments!