I Didn’t Fall From Grace, I Leapt to Freedom: Ex-Timony of a Half-Disowned Bisexual Apostate

It’s funny. If you had sat me down 5 years ago and told me that one day I’d be a blasphemy-loving bisexual apostate who had finally come out to her parents, gotten cut off, and called it all the best thing to ever happen to her, I probably would’ve laughed. Or cried. Maybe a little of both.

Certainty

Just picture it: high school aged me, little pink Bible in tow, memorizing Scripture verses in our church’s “Approved Workers Are Not Ashamed” Friday night program like any other week. I was not a picture of joyful heresy.

Back then, see, Jesus was still my everything. I was still eager servant to the God of the Universe for my forever and ever, still believed that was the only right and happy and good way to live in the first place, as my Chinese American Baptist church taught. I still sang songs like “your will above all else, my purpose remains: the art of losing myself in giving you praise” with all my heart. I still got down on my knees weekly to rededicate my whole soul to God. And so on and on.

All my life, too, I’d heard of the fabled fallaways, apostates. I could never understand how anyone could know the indescribable joy and peace and hope of Christ, live a life for Him … and leave. For what? Nonbelievers were supposed to be dangerous, blind, with empty lives not worth living; atheists were all secretly miserable. My greatest wish was that I never became one of them. At annual summer camp, I sang “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back” with tears in my eyes.

Doubt

Maybe that’s why, when I began to have my first doubts in high school, I never saw it coming. I still don’t remember when it happened, or how, or what even did happen — my brain has blocked those memories out. Was it conversations with kids at school — exposing me to a world beyond my insulated church? Websites, videos, or just a slow, wordless dawning that came naturally with my age? I don’t know.

But it began a tug-of-war that lasted years: the ever-echoing could it all be wrong? locking me in a spiral. Every week, seeing the moral and logical discrepancies in what I’d always taught was the only accurate, just, and fulfilling belief system in the world would push me to my breaking point, and I’d think “screw it all” for a few short hours until some sermon or song lyric would “convict” me to return to God on my knees.

Hiding

By senior year, I had somehow reached the point where the terror of hell and wasting my salvation couldn’t chase me back to the foot of my bed in prayer anymore. I no longer believed. I had also realized that I was bisexual. That brought a new all-consuming problem: I couldn’t let anyone find out. 

My parents, while they loved me, could be controlling, punishing, and zealous. I didn’t know yet that it wasn’t normal, but I did know it wasn’t safe. I had no idea how my parents would react if they knew I was bi and a nonbeliever, but it could be anything from getting disowned and kicked out, physically punished and trapped, sent to conversion therapy, and so on. 

So I passed my time in fear. The summer before I went away to college, the pressure of having to keep pretending I believed to everyone I’d grown up with, singing to a God I loved all my life but who never even existed, and keeping my sexuality and true beliefs a secret, all 2-3 times a week, got to me. I nearly attempted suicide a few times, but I made it to college — a liberal, Jewish-influenced university 5 hours away.

College changed everything for me. For the first time, I could say my secrets aloud. I had a lot to learn; I didn’t know who Drake and Beyonce were, I was afraid of alcohol, I didn’t know how to hang out with people. But from the very first moment, I was free to be who I’d always dreamed I could be, beneath the secrecy and fear. I went from a situationally mute high schooler to someone friendly, energetic, open-hearted, and involved in more activities and activist leadership roles than I could remember.

I continued living a double life at home, though, and it was poisoning me. Every time I went home for break, I wondered if I’d come out the other side. Having to keep pretending at church was hell, and I’m not made for hiding. I would revert to the small, powerless, trapped self I’d been, and my Christian indoctrination would rewrite my brain. I almost tried to kill myself one or two more times, and I realized in winter of freshman year that my parents could find out my secrets at any time because of short fiction pieces I’d had published. 

So I started preparing for the day my parents found out. I knew at the very least they would stop paying for college, and if it happened over break, I’d be trapped with them. So I called local shelters, memorized crisis numbers, packed a runaway bag with me at all times, and went to the campus Bible study, which was even more toxic than my church and originated from a cult. When I went home for the summer after freshman year, I truly thought that I would not make it out alive.

But I did. And even this brought troubles with it. I had not expected to survive and for the last half of 2016, I wished I hadn’t. I didn’t know what the point was. I felt I’d been lucky for having kept my sexuality and disbelief a secret for this long, and it was just a matter of time before my parents found out, I was disowned, homeless, and had to drop out of college, and I thought I would kill myself or be killed when that time came. I also didn’t know how to leave Christianity behind fully; my double life kept me anchored still in that world. What did life as a non-Christian even look like?

Healing

But something happened on Christmas Eve of that year. I was desperate, drowning in the memories of how I lost my God, my self, and my family, friends, and world without anyone even knowing, and close to suicide. So I called the Trevor Life Line. A woman picked up, and we talked, and for some reason, while I was sitting on my bed with that tear-streaked phone, I understood why leaving and living in the aftermath of my fundamentalist religion was so damn hard. I saw my past self, everything she had gone through. I saw my past glowing like a path. 

I can’t explain what came next. I think of it like a fever break, forceful, sudden, and thorough as first hail, tongue of fire, riptide. I started healing. Apparently the term for this is post-traumatic growth: a phenomenon where, after trauma, your view of the world and your self evolve into appreciation, openness, adventure, spirituality, and gratefulness. And in the mountains by Vegas as the year turned 2017, that began.

I spent the next few months coming into myself. The world exploded into a wide-open kaleidoscope of possibilities, adventures, opportunities. I realized that the idea of a conventional life: 9-5 job, stationery, family and retirement, bored me. I wanted experiences out of life, and there were so many fewer rules than my religion had led me to believe. I’d discovered absurdism, the idea that life has no inherent meaning, in the autumn, and it didn’t depress me — it excited me. 

And then came March 19.

Leaping

This day, like so many other events in my deconversion, I cannot fully explain. Here, too, it’s like there was something wordless, instinctual, and invisible in me, guiding. It knew, I think. It knew that I deserved more than the hiding I’d been doing for the past five years. It knew that if this new self was to keep growing and healing, the hiding had to stop.

And so, during a late-night routine phone call with my parents on Sunday, March 19, I ended up telling my parents that I was bi and a disbeliever. The whole thing was surreal, none of it planned. It just happened: halfway through the conversation, something unknown in me reached a tipping point, and the words forced themselves out of my mouth.

After all this time hiding, I had never imagined I would be the one to tell them, to bring the consequences I was terrified of down on my own head. My parents told me they were no longer paying for college. They asked what they had done to deserve this.

But it happened. After I hung up the phone at 2 am, I curled up and cried into my stuffed panda. And one minute later I straightened myself up. I breathed deeply. And I launched into action. I told my suitemates next door what had happened, I emailed every university employee I needed to, I paced the common room floor, feeling the carpet under my bare feet, drinking in the redness of the dull EXIT sign.

Everything was a thousand times more real. I knew what lay ahead would be grueling. I knew the person I would’ve become if the phone call never happened would never exist now; instead, there would be a new one, called on to survive all that was coming.

And yet, when I woke up in the morning that same day, all I felt going forward was a deep peace. As I told friends, professors, financial aid advisers, and bosses what had happened, I did it with grace, humor, and that peace. I didn’t know if I would still be able to go to college or have a place to stay come summer; to be honest, I’d never imagined this ending anywhere but with me as a homeless dropout. And yet, in this new reality, I knew I would find a way to be okay because I had me, the me I’d been healing and growing into since Christmas Eve.

So I did all the things I needed to do to stay in college. I filed my first tax return at 5 am on a Wednesday. I wrote a 13-page letter to the financial aid office, appealing for a grant of independent status by describing my abuse and trauma narrative with details I had never told anyone before, hoping they would consider it “bad enough” for me to be allowed to try to pay for college by myself. I got a 4th job and started waitressing with no prior experience during finals season. I started a fundraiser for summer living expenses that went over its goal in 3 days. 

And through it all I found more love, support, and grace than I ever expected. From all sides. I found out I had friends who were working through college as independents and got advice (and my 4th job lead) from them. The financial aid adviser turned out to be queer with abusive parents just like me, and my academic adviser, a wonderful man with a husband, went through the same thing himself in college. My supervisor at work and my therapist advocated for me. A friend from high school shared my fundraiser on Facebook, and ex-religious friends from online, readers of my poetry and short fiction, and people I hadn’t seen from as far back as fifth grade donated and encouraged me. I made new friendships and deeply strengthened and restarted old ones.

Freedom

After it all, just before finals, I heard that dependency override to the financial aid office was accepted, and I applied for financial aid. What I heard back still floors me.

I won’t need to pay for any tuition out of pocket, other than the usual loans I’ve already been taking. I’ve been given free on campus housing this summer through a job (in the financial aid office!) with someone who’s been unbelievably generous to me this whole way. And with my new waitressing job? I am gonna be okay. 

But I’m so much more than just okay. I am thriving. On a level I’ve never seen before. 

I enjoy going to work because I love the people I’m with. I make good money on my tips, and I’ve heard that I’m good at my job for someone who’s just started. Waitressing is throwing all the areas of situational mutism that I need to recover in my face, and while it’s definitely hard, I’ve grown so much as a person just in the past 2 weeks.

I’m planning to get the blasphemous badass tattoos I’ve dreamed of this summer, and I may finally change my name to my preferred, Max. I’m going to sharpen my harp skills at a Renaissance music camp on full scholarship for a week. I’m hanging out with friends, making new ones and learning to connect.

I’m going back to my old high school, empowered by finally being out, to make things better for LGBTQ+ people, while I also organize Asian American advocacy events, plan LGBTQ+ resource improvement at my university, and try to build community and resources for people who are recovering from and transitioning out of religious communities just like me. 

Life is an adventure now. Life is open, and full of possibilities, and while the world can be sketchy and complicated as hell, I’m all in it now, and it in me. I wanna travel, to live an unconventional life, to become and grow and heal every day. I am not just the person I always dreamed of being as a closeted, scared, traumatized born again Christian kid … I am becoming someone I didn’t even know I could be, and falling in love with them.

Before I lost my faith, my self, my world, I was supposed to go to a Bible Institute. Become a missionary, live my whole life for Jesus. Now, I’m a soon-to-be-tatted bisexual apostate, financially independent from her family, recovering from situational mutism, depression, disordered eating, and religious trauma, and an aspiring community/clinical social worker dedicated to empowering ex-religious people. I never saw this coming, but I’m so happy it did.

There’s a poem I read today that I think sums this all up. Fittingly, it’s “Autobiography of Eve” by Ansel Elkins.

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.

Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.

I leapt
to freedom.

 

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Fuck Joseph, Paul and Job. Dear ex-Christians, your struggles are valid.

As Christians we weren’t allowed to make hard times about ourselves. Well, fuck that.

This week, I want to take a closer look at how Baptist Christianity’s anti-self attitude creates expectations that suffocate us when we’re struggling.

It’s no secret to us by now that Baptist Christianity is pretty much synonymous with repression. I mean, worldview literally stresses that you cannot follow God without “dying to yourself.” That’s rough, buddy.

Growing up, I was taught that loving God means allowing him to control every imaginable aspect of my life, to the point where my very emotions could be sinful, from anxiety (didn’t I trust that God would take care of me?) to anger (how could I not forgive when God had forgiven me?)

Unfortunately, that repression really takes its time to shine when a Christian goes through hard times. The idea is that when you’re struggling in life, it’s because God intended it to happen, and you’re expected to deal with it and feel with it in very specific ways. Any other and you’re selfish and foolish. That’s based on the following 3 concepts.

  1. God never puts you through anything you can’t handle.
  2. God puts you through hard times for your own good.
  3. God puts you through hard times so you will learn that he is the only person you can depend on.

Tough times are not about you. They’re about God.

No matter what’s happening to you – whether you’ve fallen ill, lost a loved one, suffered a natural disaster, whatever – you are supposed to turn into a walking Gospel tract. 

God’s goodness is supposed to be so amazing that heathens will take one look, gasp, and say where can I get me one of those?! when they see how At Peace and Gracious your relationship with Jesus has made you. Because you’re not supposed to worry. You’re not supposed to be angry, or question, or get depressed. Not for long, anyway. 

Joseph, Paul, and Job: the Good Survivor Squad

But for the vast majority of us who can’t stuff all their feelings down and shove their questions to the side – well, we get blasted with the Good Survivor Squad, Joseph, Paul, and Job. You’ve heard about them in sermons about “rough seasons,” in meetings with your pastor or counselor, in brochures and devotionals. They’re the rock stars of repression.

Joseph is the Gracious and Wise Forgiver. He welcomes those who hurt him with open arms. He cries, but he claims it’s because he’s so happy to see them. He forgives, holds no grudges, and has no flashbacks. He says, “don’t worry. You may have hurt me, but God meant it for good.” He is at peace. 

Paul is the Modest Self-Suffocator. He acknowledges that his hard times happened, but never that they hurt him. He’ll rattle off all, like, 51 (random guess) of his near-death experience, then “yeah, whatever” them away since they’re, like, minor league compared to Jesus, right? He considers himself the lowest of the low. He needs some goddamn therapy.

Job is the Silenced Questioner. He responds to rapid successions of tragedy by worshiping God, but when he finally cracks, he gets angry, depressed, and questions God. However, he comes back around and “repents,” saying he despises himself for being so arrogant as to not trust in God.

Unfortunately, Joseph, Paul, and Job are all bullshit paradigms. They are who we’re supposed to be, but they are not who we are. We were supposed to trust that God would take care of us no matter how confused or hurt we were, to never blame him for our pain, to take it all with a smile and a “thanks be to God.” No offence, but that’s bullshit. 

This sucks. You’re allowed to say it.

I’ll admit it. I’m a Paul. I’ll acknowledge that things that’ve happened to me are, like… bad… I guess… but there’s no need to make a big deal out of them. I’ll stick a smile on my face and “it’s fine” it away. I get so uncomfortable when people call me strong or say anything that suggests my struggling is worthy of sympathy. Sometimes I even get angry. And that’s because little me, deep down, still thinks that hard times are not supposed to be about me.

Who are they supposed to be about? Beats me, cause I long stopped believing in Jesus. 

But you know, maybe it’s okay to just straight up say it. Whatever you’re going through, you can say it: You are allowed to make it about you. You are allowed to say,

Listen, this fucking sucks. This is not good. This is not meant for good. This just sucks.

You are allowed to be angry. You’re allowed to be pissed.

You’re allowed to be depressed. To worry. To cry days, to cry nights. You’re allowed to feel lost, unbearably lost, alone, unbelievably alone. You’re allowed to hate God. You’re allowed to wonder why. You’re allowed to swear. You’re allowed to not feel anything at all.

You can go through this without marketing it to people. Without smiling or dressing it up, without turning it into some inspiring story. You can not see the bright side. You can rely on friends and family, or just yourself.

You can. You are allowed. 

Those times when I say this to myself are the times when I write on this blog. And I’m now I’m saying them to you too. Your feelings? They’re yours. You don’t have to perform for anyone now. You can just be. 

So go be. 🙂

 

 

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!

Seventy Times Seven Shall You Forgive Your Abuser

Parables of Abuse

Understatement of the week: Christianity has a little bit of a guilt problem.

This week it seemed like the universe had an agenda for me, and forgiveness? At the top of the list. As a Christian, I was obsessed with it. With asking for it… and having to give it. No matter how I felt about it.

Forgive every one their trespasses, as I have forgiven you. Seventy times seven. Forgiveness was an imperative. Our morality depended on it – and our salvation. 

I think, before we continue, an example’s in order. Ever heard of the parable of the unforgiving servant?

Matthew 18:21-35, here we come (I’ve taken the liberty of… rewording it a bit):

  • Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus: “Nah. Seventy-seven.”
  • Jesus: “Also, check this parable. Once there was a king whose servants owed him money. One man owed him 10,000 bags of gold, and there was no way he could pay that shit, so the king decided to sell the man (and his wife and kids and everything he owned) to make up for it.”
  • Jesus: “The servant begged the king, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.’ The king took pity on the servant, forgave the whole debt, and let him go. Good guy.”
  • Jesus: “Right after that, the servant found a fellow servant who owed him 100 silver coins and demanded that he pay it all back. Now. The fellow servant begged for more time, but instead, the servant had him thrown in prison.”
  • Jesus: “When the master found out, he thought it was some real bullshit. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I forgave your debt. Why didn’t you forgive your fellow servant?’ Then the king sent him away to get tortured until he paid back everything he owed.”
  • Jesus: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. (:”

Now… how about these parables?

  • She sits on top of me, trying to force pills down my throat. She won’t stop shouting. The next morning she comes to me. She says she is sorry.
  • My friend’s big brother wouldn’t stop touching her. She was young. She didn’t understand. It’s been 10 years. She’ll never understand. Her family won’t talk to her because she won’t talk to him. After all, he said he was sorry.
  • They didn’t mean it. They had all the power. They never bothered to think it might hurt. You felt small and afraid and it did hurt. It hurt so much. They say of course their intentions were good, but if you’re still upset, well, sorry.

Forgiveness, forgiveness, everywhere

Maybe we should call the idea of Christian forgiveness the Forgiveness Imperative. Because it wasn’t… really a choice. Because refusing to forgive, it wasn’t just a sin. (Sins never really are just sins, not when committing one once is enough to land you in eternal flames.) Refusing to forgive was a threat to my very salvation.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Ripped straight from Matthew 6:14-15.)

Personally, the idea of mandatory forgiveness was everywhere in my Christian life. Pastors would mention it as asides in their sermons – by the way, if God forgave all the sins you’ve ever committed and will forgive the thousands more you’ve yet to commit, and there’s something you still haven’t forgiven a fellow Christian for – shame on you. Scratch that, pastors would write entire sermons all about it and encourage us to make up with our brothers and sisters directly after service. When I fought with my brother or my parents, my mom would say, God wants you to forgive like he forgives you. How can you be so selfish? 

Being mad was not an option, and if we were? It was a “heart problem.” It was rebelliousness. If we were angry because someone had hurt us, well, that was a sin on their part, but if we didn’t forgive immediately, that was a sin on our part. 

Why? I mean, the Lord of the Universe became a lowly little human just so he could be tortured to death on a dead tree and forgive all 5,000,000 of your petty sins. Compared to what Jesus went through, nothing anyone ever does to you will ever come close. It’s peanuts, and if you don’t try to forgive peanuts, do you really believe that God can change you? Do you even want to be more like God as every true Christian should?

 

EDIT: We had to forgive everyone for everything, always. Even if a person kept hurting us, the same ways, over and over again (read: toxic or, in the worst case, abusing us.) Just check out Luke 17:3-4.

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Kickback, to my fellow survivors:

When we’re survivors, forgiveness gets even trickier. Because not only do we have this enormous, black-and-white message to forgive forgive forgive on us, as far as the east is to the west, blotting out transgressions and remembering them no more, hurling them into the depths of the sea – but society tells us that being bitter is being a bad survivor. You can’t heal if you don’t let that anger go, it says. It’s your fault if you aren’t moving on. You didn’t forgive them.

On top of the Good Survivors Forgive narrative and Good Christians Forgive narrative, we often didn’t have the option to not forgive in abuse and trauma particularly. Sometimes we didn’t even consider forgiveness, because you need to be wronged to forgive, and we couldn’t even accept that we were being abused or traumatized. We’d been conditioned to believe it was our fault, if anyone’s. We’d been conditioned to believe it was normal.

Reclaiming my forgiveness, as an ex-Christian abuse and trauma survivor living in the West, is… tricky at best. I didn’t even realize that forgiveness was so pervasive and silencing in my life, not only as a human being who deserves to feel betrayal and hurt and sadness and anger without feeling guilty, but as an abuse/trauma survivor, until my therapist said something accidentally hurtful this week. I also came across Repentance and the Cycle of Abuse over on Speaking While the World Sleeps, and… boom. 

It’s hard to parse whether I’ve forgiven my therapist because I’ve really come to peace with what he did, or because I’ve got this built-in automatic Forgive Immediately and Never Look Back instinct from my Christianity and trauma. In light of that… withholding forgiveness becomes new power for me. Being bitter is my agency. Catching myself when conflict arises, examining whether I feel unsafe or less powerful because of the situation, and exploring whether I’m falsely (or rightly) assuming that not forgiving will have negative consequences – those are things I can do going forward.

As a survivor or an ex-faith, is it ever hard for you feel angry or bitter or hurt?

In what areas do you feel like you can’t forgive – or must forgive?

Let’s talk it out – and I hope you all are doing well. 🙂 It’s getting warmer over in my state, and I think I’m gonna work on the self-care I mentioned from last post by getting a bag of Munchies and reading a book. Make sure you self-care today too if you need it! ❤

NOTE: I did a little rearranging and clarifying, and added that Luke 18:3-4 bit, after rereading this and realizing a few things didn’t quite make sense. This is why I try not to write on 5 hours of sleep! 🙂

The Allostatic Load of Christianity: How Toxic Theology Can Stress The Shit Out of Us

We’ll start with a 2-min science lesson: Allostatic load is what happens when we’re always running from the bear

There’s this thing that neuropscyhologists talk about sometimes called allostasis. Now, this is gonna get a little scientific, but bear with me! I’ll break it down for ya. With bears.

When we meet life’s challenges, our bodies lose energy. Allostasis is the process of replacing it. Allo- = different, -stasis = equilibrium – so when something in our bodies changes, allostasis balances it out.

Whether that’s prolonged hunger (a bear ate all my food!), a sudden and huge need for energy (the bear is trying to eat me!), etc., our bodies will adapt – for instance, mining energy from fat reserves if we’re starving, or pumping us full of adrenaline so we can run from Angry Glutton Bear. 

Allostasis, in this case, might look like us sleeping a lot to replenish the energy we lost running and not having enough food.

It gets tricky, though, when we don’t have the time or resources for allostasis to happen. Imagine if there were 40 Angry Glutton Bears always chasing us around and scarfing up all the food. We wouldn’t be able to get those power naps we need to catch up on the energy spent from being hungry and living on the run.

And eventually? We’d enter a state of permanent stress, and allostasis would fall behind. That creates an allostatic loadOur bodies would start bearing (hehe!) the burden of being tired and hungry all the time. We might get aches and pains; we might be more prone to catching a cold; we might heal from bear scratches slower. Allostatic load is the wear and tear on our bodies when we aren’t allowed to recharge from stress. 

That’s why people with chronic stress – whether we’re abuse/trauma survivors, mentally ill, or balls-deep in toxic Christianity, etc. – can get un-bear-ably exhausted!

Christianity is the bear

I first read about allostatic load on The Crazy Herbalist, and if you’ve got the time and patience, I highly highly recommend the article. It’s actually part of a brilliant series on CPTSD and why/how our bodies and minds respond to neglect/trauma/abuse. I won’t lie, that series turned me into an emotional wreck these past 3 days. It’s changed the game on how I see my trauma, upbringing, and depression. But that’s a post for another time!

Like The Crazy Herbalist pointed out, allostatic load doesn’t just have to be physical. It can be psychological and spiritual too. If you’ve ever resonated with the phrase “I’m Tired with a capital T,” well, that’s allostatic load! And I think Christianity can make us Tired.

There are so many different and exquisitely terrible Christian ideas we can look at for an example, but let’s start with this amazing post I read on Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings today.

From babyhood they said “You are a dirty sinner, there is nothing good in you, you are destined for hell because of your nature.”

So we, small humans, awoke to a world where toddlers need the sin and foolishness beaten out of them with switches and wooden spoons and belts.

They said “Only with Jesus are you worth anything.”

So as small children we begged Jesus to come into our hearts and make the dirty clean.

They said “Because of your sin, God cannot look at you, Jesus had to die. You killed him.”

So we mourned that we were so sinful that God couldn’t look at us without someone else standing in our place.

…and so on.

Look, it’s not hard to see how Christianity puts, to borrow The Crazy Herbalist’s phrasing, a “big-ass allostatic load” on its believers. It is constantly telling us, in 101 creative ways…

  • that we suck by default. Not even because of what we do… but because we are human.
  • that we’re nothing without God, and we don’t deserve him. Every time we sin, we nail Jesus to the cross again. 
  • that our bodies are dirty. I couldn’t even wear tank tops around my dad or twin, because, ya know, didn’t want to Make the Boys Stumble.
  • that romance and sex are Bad even spending time alone with a boy or kissing can destroy part of you. (As a side note, Passport2Purity is a bitch.)
  • that we owe God EVERYTHING we are – thought life, social life, sex life, career and life choices, free time. Anything less than 100% of our existence is selfish.
  • that we should be happy and forgiving all the time. After all, Jesus died on the cross for you to be happy and trust in him, so how can we have complaints? This can compound our non-religious problems, like keeping us in abuse or not taking time to relax –> EXTRA allostatic load.

We have to carry that with us. ALL THE TIME. Everywhere. Sermons and Bible studies and songs reinforce it. We have to take the ideas that we’re inherently terrible and deserve hell and need God to change us and don’t deserve to feel bad about problems with us. 24/7. 

And if you have an abuser/rapist in your life? It’s even worse. Being abused? You can’t hate them, that’s murder in your heart, and besides, if Jesus forgave you, you’d be horrible not to give them a second chance. Been raped? Don’t tell anyone, because you probably tempted them, and besides, now you’ve lost the gift of virginity for your future husband.

And the worst thing about all of this is? There is no respite. There is no way to ease the immense guilt, thought policing, body shame, worthlessness, and fear of messing up. Because you don’t just stop believing, not when you were raised in it – unless you’re one of the lucky ones. Oftentimes, Christianity is OUR WHOLE LIVES. It’s our social circles. Our comfort. Our purpose and worth. Our confidence in the universe. Our relationship with Jesus. Our career and education may be shaped around it. Our communities may discriminate against us if we leave, our families may disown us. And what if we’re wrong and we go to hell after we die?

So we stay longer. And all of that just creates one big, fat psycho-spiritual allostatic load.

That can manifest in any way. Often we come out of fundamental religion with huge feelings of guilt, panic, distrust, shame, grief. We can be traumatized by deconverting. And we bear (again, hehe!) the brunt of all the mental energy we burned under such toxic ideology – that chronic stress may have worsened or given us anxiety, eating disorders, depression, panic, PTSD, medical problems, and a host of other undiagnosable issues.

And the problem is that it doesn’t just go away. We have those problems for good now and if we can’t work them out – which takes time, therapy (money/a ton of mental energy) and social support systems we may not have – the allostatic load can grow. We relieve our allostatic loads by processing all the shit we never got to in the first place and learning healthy ways of living, behaving, and thinking, but everyone does it differently.

I’m wondering… how does allostatic load translate for you? How did Christian ideas stress you out without letting you destress? Did they manifest in physical ailments? Mental strain? Relationship problems? Did they make any of those problems worse by discouraging you from getting help? Comment below – take a “load” off. :+)

I hope the Christian allostatic load is something you will bear in mind…

“You’re Cynical”: Or, How to Gaslight, Silence, and Annoy the Hell out of Abuse and Trauma Victims in 3 Seconds Flat

I’ve been wondering what to write for my next article for a while, and at, like, 5 AM today, I got my answer. Today’s topic is about two little words that abuse survivors sometimes hear, and it manages to erase abuse, absolve an abuser, and silence and blame a victim – simultaneously. It crops up in accusatory anonymous messages, unsolicited comments, and most notably, the following Tumblr post I came across in the unholy morning hours. Here it is:

(Before we say anything more, let’s just applaud that response. Because damn. I love unapologetic responses to bullshit. And “you’re cynical?” Some top-tier bullshit.)

(Let me also disclaimer, in this article I’m talking about “you’re cynical” as an accusation, not “you’re cynical” as a statement. It can be a dotted line between them, but if you believe that a survivor feeling negatively about abuse is a bad thing, odds are it’s an accusation. See bottom for more clarification.)

If you’ve suffered abuse, chances are you may have heard “you’re cynical” or a host of its equally annoying cousins before. The problem with being told “you’re cynical” is that we’re so often told it in a tone that means “stop being cynical,” and in response to our expressing negative emotions about the abuse. Annoying cousins include:

“Shouldn’t you be over this by now? Why haven’t you moved on?”

“You can’t heal if you don’t forgive and learn to trust again.” 

“Have you ever started a psychotherapy to stop seeing Christians as devils, or are you content with that vision?”

(Yeah, I know. You should see the rest of the message.)

“You’re cynical” diminishes abuse, excuses abusers, weaponizes the Good Survivor Narrative, and best of all, makes you look like a Grade-A asshole

Let’s unpack why.

  1. If you tell an abuse survivor “you’re cynical” when they express anger, distrust, resentment, or other negative emotions,
  2. you’re saying “you have not forgiven and learned to trust again,”
  3. which implies “you should have forgiven and learned to trust again,”
  4. which implies “you weren’t hurt so badly that you can’t forgive and learn to trust again, and if you think you were, you’re wrong,”
  5. which is gaslighting.

Gaslighting is an emotional abuse technique where abusers make their victims question and blame themselves. Gaslighting is despicable because abusers use it to keep the wool over their victims’ eyes. Don’t leave me, I never hurt you because you made that up. It’s petty to be mad at me, you deserved what I did to you. Don’t tell anyone about this, you’re exaggerating.

Stop being angry at me, I am entitled to your forgiveness and trust. Even though I used you. Violated you. Controlled you. Imposed emotional, psychological, social, financial, spiritual, and physical suffering on you.

I covered this in my last article (see previous link), but there’s a popular lie out there that defines a right way to survive abuse or trauma – and a wrong way. Forgiving and “moving on” is good (which looks very specific in America, mind you: get back to work, be happy and social, don’t “dwell on” your suffering by making noise about it.) Staying angry, not forgiving, breaking contact – that’s Bad. Petty. Weak.

When you tell a victim/survivor to stop being cynical – to stop distrusting people who remind them of the abuse and to forgive the abuser – you agree with the abuser. You agree the abuser is right to not just expect, but feel entitled to forgiveness. Entitled forgiveness requires that the victim stop telling their story and calling the abuser out. Entitled forgiveness says absolve me and shut up. ASAP.

Which is why “you’re cynical” is the Good Survivor Narrative, weaponized. It says, you’re not surviving the right way. And in doing so, it says:

  1. You owe your abuser forgiveness. (Excusing.)
  2. The abuse wasn’t that bad. By not forgiving, you imply that it was. You’re wrong. (Gaslighting.)
  3. You should stop talking about the abuse, because if you don’t, you clearly haven’t “moved on.” (Silencing.)
  4. Your feelings about your abuse are not important. (Diminishing.)
  5. Your feelings about your abuse are wrong. (Bullshit.)

When you tell an abuse victim to forgive, trust, and quiet down, their survival and recovery are put on a timeline that you created. Their survival and recovery become something to be performed for you with standards set by you. Having survivors promptly stop telling their story and stop being angry means the abuse is forgotten, and what happened was okay.

Forgiveness is not inherently bad, but it is not inherently good either. Coming to forgive an abuser or abusive system may be helpful or pivotal to a survivor’s recovery, but it is not necessary for every survivor. Forgiving abuse and accepting abuse can happen separately.

Obviously, all shitty things to do. Tl;dr, don’t tell abuse survivors that they shouldn’t be cynical, or try to police negative expressions in other ways. It’s arrogant, abuser-affirming, and none of your business.

There’s also a difference between being angry and not forgiving, and obsessing. For some people, being too bitter can be unhealthy (although, can you ever be too bitter over something as costly as abuse?) – yet too bitter is for each survivor to define, never you.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for today. Got stories? Questions? Qualms? The comments section awaits you. Happy New Year, everyone. I’ll see you in 2016.

“Mad Survivor, Bad Survivor”: Why I’m a Grinch This Christmas and Not Fucking Sorry About It

I was 17 and writing “GOD IS A STRAIGHT WHITE MAN AND HE IS KILLING US” too big in my notebook as the sermon droned on. I was 17 and giving the finger too openly to the cross hanging on the church wall. I was 17 and choking myself too obviously as everyone around me started singing the next hymn.

I was 17 and my friend was telling me to respect the church despite my trauma while the trauma was transpiring.

I am 18 and I have alternated between nearly forgiving and nearly hating her over a dozen times since.

I’m ex-Baptist and angry as fuck about it

I was born and raised Baptist, and if you know me, you know that gentle and forgiving and subtle do NOT describe my approach to talking/blogging/tweeting/shouting about it.

I have not forgiven. I have not come to terms. I am fucking pissed. I’m pissed that I was taught I owed a man in the sky my everything. That in middle school, my mom had me poke holes in a water balloon and told me that’s what having sex would do to me. That growing up I thought gay was a sin, and then finally the day came when I thought I was a sin.

But what makes me even more pissed is the fact that as I’m writing this, I’m saying rein it in. Pare it down. Gear this so it applies to more than just you. That I’ve edited/reedited the above paragraph for hours, denying myself the right to grab all the fucking skeletons the church crammed in my closet and hurl them onto the bedroom floor where everyone can see their inexcusable filth. That I’m choosing to package my anger even now, because rage? It isn’t readable.

Be a good little survivor now

I am angry. I post too much about Religious Trauma Syndrome on Facebook. I overshare online and ramble in person and I beat that damn horse bloody. I don’t keep the disgust out my voice when I talk about Christianity. I avoid every openly identified Christian I can and make faces when I can’t. During random angry spells, I snap and mince and stonewall. I’m not friendly when I do it. I’m not succinct. I’m not digestible. I’m mad and bitter and resentful and I don’t give a fuck who knows.

According to some people, I’m not surviving right. I should forgive my ex-church family, because they meant well. I should suck it up and make peace with Christianity, because it’s not fair to associate your trauma with ALL Christians. I should stop being rude to people at church. I should be a Good Survivor, like Tumblr user kielbasanova brilliantly laid out:

“The Good Survivor will never use the term “victim.” Victims are weak, survivors are strong. The Good Survivor must always be strong. 

The Good Survivor won’t lash out at you without warning. The Good Survivor has no anger, no rage, no bitterness to display.

The Good Survivor will learn to forgive and move on with their lives.

The cult of survivorship

According to The Good Survivor, it’s okay that I’m angry now because I’m 5 months out of my abusive situation and into recovery. It’s not okay that I be angry 5 years from now, or 15, or 50. It’s not okay if I never forgive. It’s not okay to call myself a victim, ’cause victims are weak, they had things happen to them, they suffered passivelySurvivors are strong, they make things happen, they actively leave the suffering in the dust.

Feministing’s Dana Bolger beautifully delineates how people who’ve been through abuse/trauma/disorders are expected to jettison their rage and distrust and despair and apathy if they want their suffering to be respected by others.

The idea of the victim-survivor transformation is linear, and directional. You’re a victim until one day, you “speak up,” you report, you go to therapy, and poof! you blossom into a survivor. You “put it all behind you,” and then there’s no turning back.

The cult of compulsory survivorship ignores the cyclic nature of healing. The good days. The bad days. Healing is nonlinear, messy, disruptive, and unpredictable.

There’s a timeline to all this. When I realized that what happened to me was fucked up, I got my Victim Card. When I officially decide to engage the emotional (and financial – meds, therapy, the time I spent unemployed because I couldn’t function; and physical – the potential anxiety, stress, and eating habits I took on) demands of “recovery,” I cash in Victim for Survivor. And when I forgive the perpetrators for forcing me through all this? Well, I’m a Full-Blown Recovered. Bully for me.

No. I am a victim just as much as I am a survivor, and there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way (check out the comments if you need examples.) Damage was perpetrated against me. I’m creating an identity apart from that damage. Both can happen simultaneously.

The Christian cult of survivorship

Dr. Marlene Winell, coiner and champion of Religious Trauma Syndrome (a form of C-PTSD developed by some people who leave fundamentalist religions) broaches how the Good Survivor mentality gets real fucked up when the holidays roll around. Even if religion hurt you, you’re gonna smile your way through the holidays because we’re all supposed to be happy, and even if you can’t do that, you’re sure as hell not gonna cry.

The Good Survivor narrative goes on steroids when you toss fundamentalism in the bowl and mix well. I can speak to the Christian side of things, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

See, when you’ve got an utterly perfect, good God up there who saved you from yourself and forgives you for hundreds of misdeeds a day despite your selfishness and weakness? There’s no way you can’t forgive someone who’s hurt you, even if they abused, raped, or traumatized you. It would be unthinkably arrogant and ungrateful to stay bitter, to not “move on” (code for: forgive and shut up, not necessarily in that order.) It’s a neat little way to:

1. Pressure the victim/survivor/survictim? out of speaking about what the suffering imposed on them and calling the perpetrating people, ideology, or system to task for it.

2. Enable the perpetrators to keep hurting the wronged parties, or at least keep them from leaving.

3. Reassure other believers that their religion is innocent or absolved of any wrongdoing, and therefore, still the Only Right Thing to Believe In.

Yeah, fuck that

I am uninterested in “accepting” what happened to me. I reject the idea that I must forgive to live a full life. Anyone who tells me that an integral part of recovery is stopping my blogging and tweeting and advocating can Amazon Prime themselves to hell. As for this Christmas? I’m probably gonna be “moody,” because I’m gonna have to keep pretending that this religion didn’t take and take from me until one day I found myself standing on thin air, naked, cold, and utterly lost.

It is not my job to inspire people with my story of how so much was denied me, of what I was indoctrinated with, and why I chose despite it all to forgive and love. That’s great, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the only way to be a good survivor or a good person. I do not owe the people, church, or religion who hurt me any forgiveness. It is possible to keep making noise and being angry, and rebuild my life and identity, at the same time. They do not have to be mutually exclusive.

So if the mood calls for it, I might glower as I sip my tea. I’m not gonna smile wide for the camera if I’m not feeling it. And I refuse to welcome in those who hurt me – and yes, those who simply remind me of that which hurt me – as if it’s necessary for me to live a full, happy, free life.

Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule/Kwanzaa.

Or not.

Up to you.

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.

Love,
Max Tang

Vulnerability: Toe-Dipping Feels Like Skinny Dipping

The past month has been incredibly hard. I’ve been struggling a lot. Choosing recovery has helped tons, but with religious trauma and the knowledge that I binge eat added to the plate, it’s all just… a lot.

I always prided myself on my openness about my mental illness – I told my (Chinese) church that I had depression before being baptized, I talk freely (and often unsolicited, hehe) online about my story and optimism, and I even made a Facebook post mentioning that I’m struggling with depression, emotional abuse, religious trauma, and binge eating last week.

But these past 2 weeks, I realized that I’m not nearly as open in person. In fact, I made it through my depression (and the emotional abuse and stirrings of deconversion, though I didn’t realize it) all through middle and high school without relying on anyone in person. There were few talks with my mother or best friend, but my main and only support system was through Tumblr. I’ve made several friends ever since I joined the website freshman year and I’m forever grateful for every word of encouragement and compliment I receive there.

Yet now I’m in college – with a proper therapist (who actually specializes in religious diversity and trauma, which I find so serendipitous), a liberal environment where I can go by the pronouns I want and live freely… the list goes on. I am not in the same abusive home I was for 18 years, and with this space I can finally root out all the shitty thoughts I was indoctrinated with by my religion and become who I want to be. A big, big part of choosing recovery is bringing my support system off the screen and into the flesh.

It was so hard, but I told my therapist everything that’s happened the past week, and for once I wasn’t infectiously optimistic about it all. He seemed extra quiet and even saddened, and he encouraged that I try my hardest to reach out to at least one friend and ask for help. So… I did. The first friend held my hands the entire time and reassured me that he wouldn’t stop being friends with me, whether depression makes me withdraw or not. He’s also committed to making sure I eat healthy amounts of food. Later at dinner, I told most of my other friends the same thing, making it pretty vague and lighthearted.

The heaviest part of the day happened a few hours ago: I sat on the couch, legs in a friend’s lap, and told her and 2 other friends about my story with depression and the trauma of leaving Christianity. It was so difficult, and I cried a lot… but I couldn’t ask for a better response. They sympathized with how difficult it was, and how I felt weird about crying while I told my story. It still feels so surreal knowing that people in real life know what I’m struggling with. I’m used to carrying all of this weight all by myself and I finally see just how much weight that is to bear alone.

For once, I don’t feel optimistic to the point of muting my sadness or exhaustion, which I’m glad for. This just… is. I was vulnerable and it felt less like dipping my toes in than plunging in headfirst, even though I didn’t even tell my full story. But I did it, hard as it was. And I have a feeling I will be very grateful.  Things have changed, although it doesn’t feel like it yet. We’ll see where it goes. ❤

“Choosing recovery:” It’s not just thought, it’s constant and courageous action

Hi everyone! It’s been quite a while since the last post, so this one will be a bit longer to catch you all up! I’m glad to be back! I’m currently a college freshman and, it’s been a pretty wild ride… in the best and worst of ways.

In my first 4 days on campus, I was exactly the person I’d always knew I was beneath depression, toxic religion, and abuse. I had all the energy I wanted to socialize non-stop – such a drastic change from middle/high school. But… then my father called with an ultimatum – change my nickname back from Max to my birth name Daniella, or he’d stop paying tuition. From August to now, I’ve also realized I have symptoms of trauma and seen depression and apathy start to make a bid for my heart as winter approaches.

Granted, I’ve also started seeing a therapist who, after years of a rocky road with “mental health professionals,” is more than I’d dare ask for. I’ve got a squad of understanding friends – and, of course, the clarity and room to grow that comes with living 5 hours from an abusive home. I’m also way more active on campus than your average person – involved in club, food drive, and festival leadership positions that make me so happy. I even won a scholarship for my involvement!

But emotionally, I’m a wreck. This whole way, I’ve been believing that seeing my therapist and being aware of problematic thoughts and habits entail recovery. Choosing recovery is a phrase you hear a lot in the ED community… but strangely, it’s not popular with depression, anxiety, abuse, or trauma.

With eating disorders and addiction, you’ve got to keep choosing to eat healthy (or not binge) and to avoid using your substance – straightforward, but hard as hell. But for my struggles? How do I “choose recovery” from depression and religion trauma? I thought about this a lot today, and here’s what I decided.

What if therapy isn’t all there is? What if choosing recovery doesn’t just involve realizing shitty ways I think and act, but choosing to grow away from them by changing my actions? 

I’ve been thinking for the past few days that there’s no way I can give up the incredible, incredible peace, friends, and opportunities I have on this college campus without a fight. After all, I spent years living just for the moments I now have in front of me. How could I just let myself slump back into who I once was? But maybe that fight actually manifests not solely in thoughts, but primarily in actions.

In everything I have a choice. I can spend the rest of the day hiding in bed like I always used to, or I can take a shower. I can avoid social interactions or I can square my shoulders and take the risk. I can gorge myself on the Ferrero Rocher sitting on my desk, or I can go to dinner.

This is what I realized: IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD. It’s supposed to be something I’ve got to push through. It’s supposed to be an hour-by-hour, even minute-by-minute deliberate and courageous choice. Maybe instead of saying I can’t get out of bed, I start saying I am not getting out of bed – it is a choice I am making without bothering to fight back. And then, maybe I get out of bed.

Tonight, I’m going to try to brush my teeth, shower, and change; go to dinner; go to a meeting; and finish my work while hanging out with friends. I’m going to be scared. It’ll be hard and I’ll constantly face nay-saying thoughts of you can’t fight this, why bother trying, just hurt yourself or die. But… I ran a gauntlet all this way to get to this treasure of a place. But… this place in life is all I EVER fought for. But… I think there’s more to the fight than this.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t quote Carrie Arnold’s blog ED Bites – which seems to have become an anthem in the ED recovery community!

The problem is that you don’t just choose recovery. You have to keep choosing recovery, over and over and over again. You have to make that choice 5-6 times each day. You have to make that choice even when you really don’t want to. It’s not a single choice, and it’s not easy.

Carrie Arnold

I think choosing recovery is a constant and courageous choice to act and think differently. And tonight, and maybe even tomorrow, I’m going to see how it goes. 

Wish me luck, and I hope this view of things helps you in some way along your recovery too!

Love, Max