Trauma Healing

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Mental Health,  Religious Abuse,  Religious Trauma,  Trauma Healing

    Good Christian Girl

    Two decades of stained glass and steeples, pastors and preachers but never a therapist. Surrounded by Bibles and hymnals; prayer requests welcome, but never a “negative” emotion.

    A Good Christian girl counts her blessings and remembers God has a plan. She always practices etiquette and good manners; she only says nice things, she’s never a downer.

    Christian mothers wagged their fingers at my furrowed brow, “You really would look so much prettier if you smiled more”.

    Sunday School classes centered on seeking the joy of the Lord, having a good attitude and never complaining. Questions were allowed if they had “easy” answers; anything else was backsliding. A Good Christian Girl doesn’t rock the boat.

    “You’ll feel better if you look on the bright side.” “You should volunteer, you’ll see others have it much worse than you.” “Follow God and you’ll be blessed.” “Everything happens for a reason” “God works in mysterious ways.”

    Church leaders promised if I trusted God I would be okay. After all, I was a Good Christian Girl and God was on my side. So I trusted and prayed, volunteered and obeyed, but the truth is, their promises turned up empty.

    With a cheery face and a scream trapped in my lungs, I was drowning. For far too long I was silenced with a smile.

    Living in a box too small for me, there comes a breaking point. So much was stolen from me in the name of Goodness, but I’m surviving and finding my strength.

    Now on the other side, I don’t need to find a silver lining. I’ve been learning a few lessons of my own. My innocence, my health, my happiness weren’t obstacles to my virtue. Suffering isn’t always refining.

    There doesn’t have to be a greater purpose to a loved one’s death, or abuse, or a diagnosis. Hardships don’t have to be lessons and trials aren’t signs I need my faith tested.

    Not everything is worked out for my good. I wonder where I would be if trauma hadn’t held me down? Sometimes evil injustice wins, and it’s not because of my hidden sins.

    I don’t have to be okay with it and I don’t have to get over it. I don’t have to believe this was all part of the plan. I can be angry, I can doubt, I can wrestle. And it’s not a crisis of faith.

    Now I let my experiences shape my beliefs and not the other way around. There is no magic wand waving in the sky. I choose to trust myself.

    Gone are the days of silent submission, fake smiles and shallow answers, and to hell with linear religious narratives!

    I’ve found love in all the wrong places,and encountered peace where it wasn’t supposed to be.

    I’ve discovered a sense of purpose in what I was told would be meaningless,experienced joy in situations I was warned would bring pain.

    Healing has come from the very things I was taught would damage me, I even felt the safest from decisions that were supposedly dangerous.

    The truth I was looking for turned out to be unorthodox and the saints I’ve met have all been sinners.

    I’ve encountered God among the ungodly and I have come face to face with goodness in perhaps the most surprising of places – I have found it in myself.

    Now I really have to wonder – what exactly did they try so hard to keep me from?

    I’m learning to find my voice again and the more I unravel the indoctrination, the more sacredness I find.

    Sometimes when I let myself sit in the darkness, I see the Light inside of me and I realize that maybe God is more like me than I was taught…

    Maybe She is angry too.

    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

    This is a version of a piece I wrote for the deconstruction magazine Hyssop & Laurel. For those of you who have been following for a while, you might recognize it as a reimagination of two of my past works “Silenced with a Smile” and “Finding Love in all the Wrong Places”. It also includes brand new content. This piece I’m sharing now is very similar to my published version, with a few edits.

    This writing was an attempt at describing my mental health journey while living through religion and coming out the other side. There is a lot of darkness, but also so much light and healing to be found.

  • Religious Abuse,  Religious Trauma,  Trauma Healing

    Dear Mom and Dad

    Those of us who were raised in the church often have a particularly complicated relationship with our parents. When our parents don’t fit society’s requirements for being abusive, and yet we feel profoundly harmed by our parents, it sets up a unique internal struggle: confusion, guilt, and often a mix of anger and justification for our caregivers’ choices.

    Its especially hard if we love our parents and want to be close, but feel pushed away by their actions. We often take on the responsibility for their behavior, thinking if only we tried hard enough we could be different than them and still have a healthy connection.

    But we can’t lift both sides of the relationship. While our parents might love us and might have met our physical needs, they still put us in an abusive situation and often neglected our emotional needs. As much as we might love our parents and even feel empathy for them, there often comes a point when we need to confront them for the abuse they either caused or enabled.

    That’s what this letter is. It’s an actual letter I wrote to my parents recently when things yet again came to a head. Feel free to use any of these points with your own parents, if it would help you.

    P.S. – My parents aren’t horrible, evil people, and yours might not be either. But that’s the thing with high-demand religion – it makes good people do bad things.


    Dear Mom and Dad,

    I wanted to take a few minutes to open up and be vulnerable enough with you to let you know how the communication dynamics in our relationship are affecting me.

    It’s very hard to talk to you about anything beyond surface-level topics because you get so frantic and wound up and defensive and full of fear and anger. The way you both keep bringing up harsh and judgmental sentiments over and over, never letting it rest, and the way you make passive aggressive comments about heavy topics – seemingly to “get me thinking” about it or to get a reaction out of me – it starts to feel like harassment and it’s hard to enjoy my time around you without being always on edge.

    Going forward, I am setting the boundary that I will not discuss political or religious topics with either of you anymore. It is an unfortunate solution, because I would prefer to be able to chat back and forth as equals about whatever is on our minds, but the way you talk about these things makes that seem impossible. I feel preached at and cornered and you seem to listen only enough to form a rebuttal. That’s not a respectful, reciprocal relationship.

    I don’t want to be around the anxiety-inducing negativity and I also don’t want to see you living your own lives in fear and anger either. Life is short, why be consumed by that? Enjoy life, make the best decisions you can for yourselves, focus on the things that make you happy, and give others the freedom to do so as well.

    You told me recently that you feel you have to walk on glass around me, because I “take things SO personally”.


    I do take it personally when my own parents repeatedly defend my abusers (the church), yes.

    I do take it personally when my parents keep pushing the same ideology on me that originally traumatized me and gave me the lasting injury of PTSD. I will always take that personally.

    I do take it personally when subtle jabs are made in my presence and pointed at people who are just like me and fit my demographics. This includes me and the people I love in your insult – so yes, I take that personally.

    I do take it personally when my beliefs and decisions are misrepresented and distorted, and people who share my values are painted to be villains. I take that very personally.

    I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t understand the depths of cruelty I experienced from the people and culture at your church.

    I assume you don’t realize just how important my faith was to me (it was everything) and just how far the church had to push me and torment me, to get me to leave. I didn’t want that. I would have stayed if it was safe.

    You say you care deeply about me, and I believe you, but…

    1) you’ve never actually asked about my abuse or to hear my story, and you seem to prefer I don’t bring it up,

    2) you’ve never asked you how can help,

    3) you’ve never asked or talked about about ways you might have been complicit in what happened to me,

    4) you’ve never stopped defending the people who abused me,

    5) you’ve never stopped promoting the beliefs and lifestyles that harmed me,

    6) you’ve never approached me with an openness to learn and willingness to only listen without a defense,

    7) you’ve never clearly affirmed that you do in fact believe me, and defending the church makes it seem like you don’t (that’s one of the worst things an abuse survivor can experience, not being believed)


    8) you’ve never apologized for the ways you were involved – such as believing lies about me, talking to people about me behind my back, blaming me for what I went through and placing me in that community in the first place (even when done with good intentions).

    Again, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t fully understand all that happened and that you wouldn’t want to do these things on purpose. But there still comes a point where each of us needs to take responsibility for our actions and I believe in this situation we’ve reached that point.

    You don’t have to walk on glass around me, just please

    1) don’t defend my abusers,

    2) don’t keep pushing traumatizing ideology on me,


    3) don’t make frequent judgmental and negative comments around me

    And I believe the best and maybe the only way to do this, is to

    4) not discuss politics or religion together.

    A few final thoughts – before you say something negative about a person or group of people, ask yourself “Is this loving? Do I know this person’s entire story? Do I know their motivations? Am I 100% certain if I lived their EXACT same life and suffered everything they have suffered, that I wouldn’t end up in the same situation?” The world would be such a more beautiful place if we all saw the humanity in each other.

    And I’m tired of your frequent, passive Doomsday comments that are always out of the blue and jarring and pointless unless you are purposefully trying to upset me. It puts me on edge and makes me nervous to be in situations where it could happen again. This affects my ability to spend longer bouts of time with you.

    And finally – Please, just let me be me. Give me the same freedom you yourselves have, to be who you want to be.

    I love you both very much and I’m taking the time to say all these things because I want to have the closest and healthiest relationship possible.

    Love, Sarah

  • Progressive Christianity,  Religious Trauma,  Spirituality,  Trauma Healing

    No Facades, No Apologies

    I’m not finding myself, but finding my worth

    I’m not lost, only trained to be invisible

    It takes courage to be who you really are

    Just you and nothing and nobody else

    Unveiled for the world to see

    No facades, no apologies

    I’m learning to love myself again – or maybe for the very first time

    I’m rewiring my brain to believe I am good – not disgusting or evil or broken

    I can trust myself – and they were wrong

    I was created with inherent glory and nothing, no one, can strip that away

    That’s what it means to be made in the image of God

  • Reflections,  Trauma Healing

    Why Me?

    Why me?
    Why was I the one who got away?
    Was I somehow special?
    Was I just lucky to be exposed to a different viewpoint? No…I’ve seen others presented with the same information and respond differently.
    So…Why me?

    Why me?
    Why did I leave?
    Was I different from birth?
    Is there something in my genetics that makes me question everything? Something that makes me less likely to follow blindly? No… my sister has the same genetics and she continues to dive deeper in.
    So…why me?

    Why me?
    Why did I have the epiphanies?
    Did an outside force change me along the way?
    Did something happen in my childhood that made me realize something wasn’t right? No… My sibling and I shared most of the same childhood experiences and I’m the only black sheep.
    So…why me?

    Why me?
    Why did I wake up to the inconsistencies, harsh judgments and lies?
    Am I more compassionate? Certainly more than some, but no… that’s not it – I know plenty of compassionate, misguided people.
    So…why me?

    Why me?
    Why did I learn to think for myself when I was trained not to, and the cost was so incredibly high?
    Am I wiser? Bestowed upon by the Spirit? No…that doesn’t seem right. I’ve seen many people ask God for wisdom, yet come away with different conclusions.
    So…why me?

    Why me?
    Why did I rebel when I was always so obedient before?
    Was I chosen? By whom? No…I doubt it. Certainly there are others more capable who could have been called out and enlightened. Those with more bravery, charisma, charm…
    So…why me?

    Why me?
    Why did I escape?
    Where did I find the strength to willingly lose everything? How did I gain the resolve to pick apart my entire reality? Perhaps I was equipped by the God I was accused of rejecting. But no…It doesn’t make sense for God to rescue me and not the others.
    So…why me?

    Why me?
    Why was I given a second chance at life, even while I was so narrow-minded? Where did I learn to start again from scratch?
    Am I following my true calling now? No…I’m not doing anything grand – just taking care of myself and my loved ones and trying to be happy.
    So…why me?

    Why me?
    Why do I now have this life I call my own?
    Why do I get to finally say I am safe? Scarred and broken, but free?
    Was it just some random happenstance? A meaningless coincidence? No…I feel a sense of purpose deep in my bones, and though my life isn’t impressive somehow it is still enough. Back then, I was never enough.
    So…why me?

    Am I special?
    Am I lucky?
    Am I different?
    Am I chosen?
    Am I called?
    I will never know
    I will always wonder
    Why me?

  • Gender,  LGBT,  Progressive Christianity,  Trauma Healing

    Taking Pride in Me

    I’m proud of me. It took a long time to be able to say that but I take pride in who I am. I take pride in being different. I am proud of my ability to love people regardless of their gender or their body parts. I’m proud of the journey I took to self-acceptance.

    Growing up evangelical it took a long time to make sense of my gender and sexuality. It’s easy to underestimate how integral those aspects of our identity are to the core of our being, how we see ourselves and how we experience the world.

    It wasn’t just the outright anti-gay messages that made this process so difficult, it was also the lack of any variety, diversity or individuality whatsoever. It wasn’t just the strict “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” indoctrination, it was also the stolen opportunities to know or love anyone living outside those limiting roles.

    Everything was so binary, so black and white. You were either this or that. If you were this, you needed to like that and if you were that you needed to like this.

    If you were seen as a girl, you needed to like dolls, and tea parties and pink dresses. And you had to like boys – only boys. You would be quiet and polite, of course. You would be scared of spiders and snakes and heights and going out after dark and you would need boys and men to help you and comfort you and protect you.

    If you were seen as a boy, you needed to like trucks and army men, camo and baseball caps. And you had to like girls – only girls. You would be loud and rambunctious and no one would teach you manners because boys will be boys. You would like showing off and having big muscles and getting dirty and you would help all the little girls who weren’t as strong or brave as you.

    As a little girl, it was absolutely predestined that I would marry a man someday. There wasn’t any question about it. Remaining single wasn’t an option ever discussed. Becoming a wife and mother someday was a give-in. When I was really young it didn’t bother me too much, my fate was matter-of-fact – that’s just how it was.

    It didn’t take long though, for little Sarah to toddle around the yard helping her dad with stacking firewood and wonder my mommy was always inside cooking and cleaning. It didn’t take long for her to notice that her body looked more like her mother’s, even at 5 years of age and to notice a creeping fear of growing up and turning into someone she didn’t feel like she really was. My heart breaks now realizing how early the feeling of being trapped set in for me.

    This was all still fairly sub-conscious though, until maybe 5th or 6th grade when I first reckoned with my sneaking suspicion that I didn’t totally fit in. It entered my awareness watching princess movies – realizing I resonated more with the prince doing the rescuing than the princess waiting around for it. I felt angry that the princess usually seemed helpless and weak. I was old enough to realize on some level that the generation I was born into was under no control of mine, and if I had been born earlier in history I would be forced to dress and behave as the princess I was watching. But I wanted to be strong, have a grand adventure, and save the day. I wanted to run mightily through the woods, feel my muscles ripple as they carried my frame, and let my hair stream out freely behind me. I didn’t want to sit around in a castle all day with no part to play in the story other than being a pretty thing to be admired. I couldn’t understand why some girls were okay with that.

    It wouldn’t be until sometime in my twenties when I was able to hold the complexity of gender and face my trauma enough to know it didn’t have to be either-or. But for years I struggled with anger around being born female because I wasn’t allowed to see any other way of being a woman. I was kept from knowing anyone else like me existed.

    Following those princess-movie-epiphanies, I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be a woman. But that didn’t make sense either. I didn’t want to BE the man. I didn’t want to LOOK like the man. I just wanted to be FREE like the man. I liked being a pretty girl, but I wanted to be pretty AND strong. I wanted to play an important role in the story and be a fearless leader and I wanted a man to fall in love with me someday. But I wanted to rescue a princess too. I wanted the admiration of women and to feel their touch. I wanted to be able to take care of another girl and guide her and love her. I admired the softness and elegance of highly feminine women and I was drawn to the strength, bravery and outspokenness of fierce women.

    Most of these feelings were hiding in the shadows of my mind where they were rarely seen clearly.

    My church didn’t have as many anti-gay sermons as some, but that’s partly because 20 years ago no one was talking as much about either gay rights or depriving them.

    I do vividly remember our pastor saying once “studies have shown that gay people don’t live as long, so we are actually helping them even though they don’t like it! We want them to live longer!” He didn’t bother telling us where these “studies” came from or what the evidence was.

    My middle school youth group leader ignited rumors when she cut her hair short. My friends started whispering “is she, you know…?” All because of a haircut! Later however, she did actually end up coming out as lesbian. She was immediately forced to quit her job and leave the community. The scandal permeated the entire church for a bit. My sister freaked out because they had shared a hotel room when going on a mission trip. I remember being upset my youth leader was gone becuase she was the only one I felt totally safe with and I had really looked up to her and her faith perspectives. I remember thinking it didn’t make sense that one of the best people I knew was somehow bad enough she couldn’t be around.

    I was in high school when it clicked that my uncle and his long-term roommate were a gay couple. I was very close to my uncle. He was such a delightful person who brought joy to my life, so it confused and distressed me that my family made him hide who he was around me. It never stopped bothering me that they acted like he was something to be ashamed of.

    Once my teenage best friend randomly told me she wasn’t allowed to be friends with “gay people” in case it made her gay too. Around the same time, I noticed when leaning in to hug a close female friend how natural it would have felt to kiss her and I wondered why that would be seen as weird, if we both wanted it. To me it seemed a natural way to show affection to a person I loved closely.

    When someone in my young adult years suggested I might be bisexual I wasn’t convinced. It seemed to far “out there” to be the true me, I thought. I didn’t feel that edgy.

    In college I noticed feeling butterflies around some of my best friends and as I got older and enjoyed longer-term intimate friendships with women that nurtured my soul, I experienced feelings and attachment I could only really describe as being in love.

    In my mid twenties I moved to a progressive city where I joined an inclusive and affirming church. For the first time I was part of a faith community where diversity was celebrated. I LOVED it! I got to do life with so many interesting people and I was accepted just as I was. I didn’t have to fit a label. No one asked or blinked an eye if I held hands with a woman or said “she” when talking about my date. I started noticing I didn’t only have crushes on cis-gendered people and the term pansexual floated through my mind. I learned about gender identity through casual conversation. Other people’s stories taught me I don’t have to identify as trans to feel out of place regarding society’s expectations of my gender. The term genderqueer was helpful. Lots of my friends identified as queer and there wasn’t even a need to “come out”, because no assumptions were made.

    It wasn’t weird to anyone that I presented as feminine and “straight-passing” but often felt more masculine. No one was fazed by my attraction to men and women and people of all genders. It was just another way of being in this multifaceted and magical world. Around town I saw and interacted with so many people just like me and so many who were not at all like me and it was absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing how much healing inclusive community brings.

    Nowadays I don’t really worry anymore about what labels or categories I fit into or what hobbies I “should” be interested in, or clothing style I’m going for or if I’m “queer enough”. I just do what I like and wear what I like and love who I like and I think that’s the best way to be.

    I see now all I ever had to do was be myself and embody love.

    It took over two decades to find this peace. I finally learned I don’t have to be someone I’m not in order to be me. It’s been a long journey and I’m proud of me.